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James Taylor's Decision Management

James Taylor

SOA, BPO and business rules

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I was reading a piece called "Creating an SOA-Enabled BPO Platform" by William Martorelli of Forrester this weekend and much as I liked the piece, he seemed to me to be missing a key component for an SOA-platform for Business Process Outsourcing - decision automation. He says

Faced with these challenges — and forced to achieve one-to-many customer leverage in order to make money — BPO (business process outsourcing) providers are adopting layered service delivery architecture capable of isolating them from complexity.

I completely agree that a decent software infrastructure, and one based on SOA, is going to be critical for BPOs in the future. However, while William's discussion of business rules, and the need for a business rules engine external to the applications executing the process steps that can be rapidly updated, is spot on I think he misses a couple of key points:

  • The rules must be exposed in a way that allows the customer of the BPO provider to manage the rules.
    The critical capability is that the customer can continue to control the rules, even while the BPO runs the process
  • The rules must be layered
    While some of the rules will be provided by the BPO as part of its expertise and thus standard across multiple customers, those being edited by a customer must be different for each customer. To build a scalable platform this means one service taking a decision but taking a decision in a customer-specific way. Some rules engines support this approach, others do not. If you have to build a rules-based decision service for each customer, it is not going to work.
  • Many decisions involve both business rules and analytics - knowledge/expertise embodied in the rules and data analysis embodied in the analytics.
    Only focusing on the value of analytics in terms of process analytics is not enough. The BPO will need to allow customers to build models from data and inject these analytics into the decisions also. Smart BPOs may realize that anonymized aggregated data gives them the power to build analytic models also and use these to differentiate the service they offer, especially to customers that do not have enough data of their own.

William also talks about an SOA-based approach enabling multi-vendor BPO solutions. Here I agree with him and think we will see a growth in what Fair Isaac has started to call "Decision Service Providers" who provide automated decisions for use in other processes. Clearly a company suitable for efficient management of a process may not be the one suitable for making a complex decision involving risk-tradeoffs and complex analytics or one that is heavily regulated. Using a Decision Service Provider for this would allow the injection of critical expertise (in marketing, underwriting, retention) into an outsourced process, or indeed one being executed by the company itself.

I have blogged about the value of business rules in a BPO architecture before on my other blog and written about the value of business rules in implementing a digital business architecture such as Forrester describes as well as on how business rules can enable business/IT collaboration or "concurrent business engineering.

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BPO has revolutionized into an innovative and productive business. There is still a need to understand the broad requirements of BPO service providers and facilities necessary to create an enabling environment for the further growth of this sector.

You did a great job making criticisms on the article:"Creating an SOA-Enabled BPO Platform" by William Martorelli constructively.

Due to the trends of the global economic crisis, most huge companies coming from the West opt for outsourcing their job requirements or needs offshore to cut off the productivity costs. However, the complexity of the relationship between the clients and the BPO firm should be seriously discussed and firmly grounded before a deal is made so as to avoid misinterpretations between the concerned parties.

While most businesses get into outsourcing or offshoring due to cost, they quickly find that simply having cheap labor overseas does not necessarily save you money. Having proper communication channels and involving staff participation in that communication become key if hoping for a truly seamless integration.

While people may have different views still good things should always be appreciated. Yours is a nice blog. Liked it!!!

This was a very pertinent post. I tip my hat to you for raising this discussion. Outsourcing has become an important phenomenon accepted by all the business sectors worldwide since a long time now. Outsourcing of BPO services has progressed from being, just a cost saving tool, to a strategy, adopted to realize process enhancement with superior operational efficiencies. Large organizations have already realized that cost savings, is one of the major benefits, achieved by BPO. -Jaime

James Taylor blogs about decision-management technologies such as predictive analytics and business rules, discussing how they deliver agility, improve business processes and bring intelligent automation to SOA.

James Taylor

James Taylor blogs on decision management for ebizQ, and is an independent consultant on decision management, predictive analytics, business rules, and related topics.

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