Centralized Management With Decentralized Control

Ever been stuck in a conference room (or office) where it was either too hot or too cold and adjusting the thermostat seemed completely ineffective? You’re probably not the only one. And it’s probably not an accident. In fact, it’s a good (but perhaps unintentional) example of the potential for the intersection of business rules and BPM.

Consider the owner of a building that has multiple HVAC (heating, ventilating, and cooling) units that help regulate airflow and temperature in different sections, but not down to the individual office designation. Allowing individual offices to control the cooling or heating would result in numerous (and often differing) signals being sent to the centralized HVAC units. (Didn’t you just know that those thermostats never did any good?) Instead, by centrally monitoring and controlling the heat or cooling requirements for sections of the building as a whole, the building owner can optimize heating and cooling patterns and potentially reduce costs. For example, the owner could configure the cooling system to compensate for the fact that the east side of the building will heat up more quickly in the morning because of the rising sun, while the west side of the building will heat up after lunch. In terms of efficiency, this can be a great solution—it lowers overall heating and cooling costs. But it does come at a cost — the comfort of the individual users or offices within the building? Since the air conditioning and heating are centrally controlled, they’re probably never exactly right for individual living or working spaces or people.

Now let’s compare that to a building where each office, room or apartment has its own air conditioner and heater, individually controlled by the thermostat in each room. People can adjust the airflow and temperature in each of their living or working spaces individually—but must do so manually. With this scenario, there’s no centralized way to allow for the standard daily fluctuations (such adjusting the heat and cooling for the overall effects of solar heating on one side of the building), or accommodating days when it’s overcast, or when there’s a severe heat or cold spell. Individuals must adjust their own HVAC systems—which works well (if not in a coordinated fashion) when they’re in the offices, but not so well if they’ve stepped out for a meeting. In that case, there may be a great many individual HVAC units set for conditions that have changed. For example, they may be belting out cold air to compensate for the warmth of the morning sun that is now on the other side of the building. Or, if we figure that 25% of the occupants are away from their office or apartment at any point, there’s a good chance that the heat or AC is set too high or too low for current conditions, and you have may end up with the heating units operating on one floor, and the air conditioning units operating on the next. In any case, a building with decentralized control over the temperature gives users a much more agreeable environment (they can control the temperature), but can significantly reduce the efficiency of the overall system — since you may have air conditioners or heating units cranking away in response to conditions that have long since changed, or because you have some units right next others vying to alter the temperature.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have the best of both worlds? From the offices I’ve inhabited over the years, I would certainly like that.

Well, if you look at the intersection of business process management and business rules, you may have an answer—if not for the actual heating and cooling of your office building, than at least for the appropriate way to design an efficient (and still effective) approach to centralized and yet locally controlled business processes.

Business rules systems enable organizations to define the rules or decision points (such as inside and outside temperatures in our example) that run a business or feed into a business process. Most business processes are filled with individual decision points that can often be implemented as business rules.

Automating a business process with a business process management (BPM) solution can go a long way toward improving the efficiency of a process—but if those key decision points (such as temperature adjustment controls) are buried in the process model or are centrally controlled, the overall change and flexibility of the process automation is limited to users who can modify that process model. Instead, if there’s a way to break out those decision points into variables, rules or process steps that can be controlled (within a predetermined range) by individual business managers, the process suddenly becomes even more effective at responding to local requirements while still meeting the overall objectives defined by the process owner.

Without an automated, BPM solution, a business process might look like the second example — lots of individual process owners and people making uncoordinated decisions that may be counterproductive or inefficient. BPM solutions certainly make that better by providing centralized process control, but with the risk of local inefficiencies. Without some way to break out the business rules, the automated process becomes much like the first example — centralized control that works well overall, but doesn’t allow individual users (or divisions or branch locations) to optimize the process for their business environment. With business rules that can be distributed and controlled by localized business managers or process owners, an automated process becomes the best of both worlds — a process can be centrally defined and optimized, but individual decision points or variables can be modified by local business managers to optimize the process for their business requirements. For example, an insurance company can define the overall processes, rates, and risk factors for a certain type of insurance, but by allowing individual insurance agents alter or modify them for their market (within certain parameters), the insurance company will be more competitive.

By combining business process management with business rules capabilities, organizations can enable centralized process management with distributed control and optimization. Think of it as having an office with a working thermostat along with a lower electricity bill because the entire building’s HVAC controls have been optimized (and centrally managed) for greater efficiency.

About the Author

David Kelly - With twenty years at the cutting edge of enterprise infrastructure, David A. Kelly is ebizQ's Community Manager for Optimizing Business/IT Management. This category includes IT governance, SOA governance,and compliance, risk management, ITIL, business service management,registries and more.

As Community Manager, David will blog and podcast to keep the ebizQ community fully informed on all the important news and breakthroughs relevant to enterprise governance. David will also be responsible for publishing press releases, taking briefings, and overseeing vendor submitted feature articles to run on ebizQ. In addition, each week, David will compile the week's most important news and views in a newsletter emailed out to ebizQ's ever-growing Governance community. David Kelly is ideally suited to be ebizQ's Governing the Infrastructure Community Manager as he has been involved with application development, project management, and product development for over twenty years. As a technology and business analyst, David has been researching, writing and speaking on governance-related topics for over a decade.

David is an expert in Web services, application development, and enterprise infrastructures. As the former Senior VP of Analyst Services at Hurwitz Group, he has extensive experience in translating the implications of new application development, deployment, and management technologies into practical recommendations for enterprise customers. He's written articles for Computerworld, Software Magazine, the New York Times, and other publications, and spoken at conferences such as Comdex, Software Development, and Internet World. With expertise ranging from application development to enterprise management to integration/B2B services to IP networking and VPNs, Kelly can help companies profit from the diversity of a changing technology landscape.

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About ebizQ

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