In today’s business environment, two factors are critical for success: insight into what’s happening under the hood of your business and agility for responding what’s happening both in and around it.

For that reason, a growing number of CIOs, BPM specialists and other business and IT pros are beginning to understand that effective decision management can serve as an expressway to improving customer-facing processes.

That's increasingly the case regardless of company size. Today, vendors are offering a wider variety of technologies enabling decision management, making the adoption of such tools more feasible for companies that, until recently, struggled to find affordable solutions. Options now range from decision-management solutions from the market’s big guns to prepackaged, lower-cost, easy-to-use tools from smaller vendors, including those offering business rules, predictive analytics and business intelligence solutions.

Increased access to such tools is especially important now that we’re in what industry experts call an intelligent economy, one in which businesses rely more and more on insights gleaned from analytics to keep from falling behind. “There’s growing evidence that links performance competitiveness with the use of analytics,” says Dan Vesset, program vice president for business analytics at IDC.

BUSINESS DECISIONS AND CUSTOMER-FACING PROCESSES
Success in business relies primarily on making the right business decisions, and customer-facing processes typically involve hundreds of decisions that need to be made all day long.

But many organizations neglect this type of operational decision-making because they believe or assume that individual front-line decisions have little or no impact, says James Taylor, CEO of Decision Management Solutions.

In Taylor’s view, such thinking couldn’t be further from the truth. “A company’s brand identity is defined by thousands of these little decisions that ultimately have a cumulative impact that’s huge because decisions of these types occur so often,” he says.

What exactly are “customer-facing processes”?

The category, admittedly broad, encompasses a variety of processes that fall into the sales, marketing and customer service functions. Examples of marketing processes include pricing, promotions and product positioning; examples of customer service processes include ways that call-center representatives can provide callers with product information or resolve complaints.

To consider the category another way, think in terms of internal and external activities such as customer acquisition, sales, service, support, development and retention.

DEFINING DECISION MANAGEMENT
Next question: What exactly is decision management and how can it improve customer-facing processes?

Decision management is a growing practice of combining software and expertise to automate and improve decision-making in critical business systems, says Cheryl Wilson, IBM Demand Program Manager. The approach involves both being able to make the best possible decision right now based on data and situational context and being able to use the data to discover insights that can continually improve and automate decisions over time. Examples of decision management applications include product and promotional offers, case and customer prioritizations and determination of fraudulent activity.

Wilson says such decisions may be fully automated, for instance, through an online application or a self-service point-of-sale system. Or they may be used to provide decision support to people, for example, through a customer relationship management (CRM) system used at a call center, branch or store location, or in the back office.

Perhaps the biggest driver reshaping decision management is the ongoing shift in how customers interact with companies: They’re increasingly mobile, they rely on the Internet and they want 24/7 service. “Companies are deluding themselves if they think that their staff can handle decisions [quickly enough] as customers get more mobile and rely more on the Web,” says Taylor. “And they can’t always refer things up to a supervisor.”

What to do? Automate those decisions. Build self-service and mobile applications enabling customers to do the things they want to do. Use business rules management to automate best practices that drive decision improvement and consistence. Use advanced analytics and data mining to improve decision quality.

Trends in customer Internet usage, mobility and demand for anywhere-anytime service, combined with the explosive growth of data and the development of more systems for capturing and mining that data—all these factors are combining to help drive decision management into the mainstream.

CHARACTERISTICS OF DECISION MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS
When considering decision management systems, it’s wise to keep in mind three core characteristics that together make up the yardstick by which those systems can be measured, Taylor says. The best systems are:

• Agile: Systems should be as agile as possible to keep up with decisions that are constantly changing in response to market shifts and other factors.

• Analytical: Systems need top-notch analytics to provide companies with fast, complete insights about the data they’re collecting—which, in turn, can help companies become more efficient, more effective and, ultimately, more profitable.

• Adaptive: Systems should be highly adaptive, or self-configuring, leading to continuous improvement over time. They should adapt quickly to changing circumstances such as consumer trends, competitor activities and marketplace activity.

NEW DIRECTIONS FOR DECISION MANAGEMENT
Decision management rolls up into what Hub Vandervoort, CTO for enterprise infrastructure at Progress Software, calls “responsive process management”—providing better visibility into data or being able to turn decisions into action in the moment. “It’s the ability to be responsive operationally” whether addressing internal or external customer-facing processes, he says.

Up to this point, it’s been up to IT professionals to develop decision management. But now some solutions allow non-technical business users to express business rules in a cogent way. (Among them is Corticon, a business rules management company that Progress purchased in December 2011.)

Predictive analytics vendors Zementis and Predixion are also reshaping decision management with cloud offerings. Zementis’s Adapa Software as a Service (SaaS) solution, is a standards-based decision engine that works with models created in any data-mining package that outputs the standard Predictive Model Markup Language (PMML). Predixion offers self-service predictive analytics that fully integrate with Microsoft’s business intelligence platform, including SharePoint and Excel 2010.

According to user surveys from Gartner Inc., the need for better decision-making is a key driver of BI purchases. Meanwhile, BI capabilities are increasingly being embedded in business and analytic processes and packaged analytic applications. You can expect BI to become increasingly more actionable at the point of decision, which will drive both the value and adoption of BI/analytic tools.

Collaborative aspects of BI tools also make them more accessible to small and midsized organizations via popular products such as Microsoft SharePoint. As a result, says Taylor, “We’re seeing more companies catch up with the potential of the technology.”

READER FEEDBACK: Are you using decision management to improve your customer-facing processes? If so, how is it working? If not, where else are you using decision management--or where are you considering using the approach? Share your thoughts with ebizQ. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.



About the Author

Lynn Haber is a Boston-area freelance writer who specializes in writing about business and technology. Contact her at lthaber@comcast.net.

More by Lynn Haber, ebizQ Contributor

-1-

1  

Explore Our Topics

  • EDITOR'S BRIEFING
ebizQ editorial highlights and updates, compiled by ebizQ staff
  • BaaS bonus: In this podcast, Gartner Research Director Gordon Van Huizen discusses the Backend as a Service marketplace and the approach's pros, cons and challenges.
  • Cloud quiz: How much do you know about business process management in the cloud? Test yourself with this six-question cloud BPM quiz.
  • Three key steps: Clay Richardson of Forrester Research describes ways to emphasize user experience in business process design.
  • ebizQ editorial: Browse ebizQ's collection of independent editorial content, including articles, tips, Q & As, podcasts, guest columns, book excerpts and more.
  • Virtual Conferences
  • Webinars
  • Roundtables

BPM in Action

March 10, 2011

The sixth annual BPM in Action 2011 Virtual Conference will explore cutting-edge market developments in BPM and describe how to leverage them for improved business operation and performance. More

View All Virtual Conferences

Smart Case Management: Why It's So Smart.

Date:Nov 05, 2009
Time:12:00 PM ET- (17:00 GMT)

REGISTER TODAY!

Date:Oct 29, 2009
Time:15:00 PM ET- (19:00 GMT)

REGISTER TODAY!
View All Roundtables
  • Research Library
  • Podcasts
  • News

Joe McKendrick: Part II of II: Designing Evolve-ability into SOA and IT Systems

In part two of Joe McKendrick's recent podcast with Miko Matsumura, chief strategist for Software AG, they talk about how SOA and IT systems need to change and grow and adapt with the organization around it.

Listen Now

Phil Wainewright: Helping Brands Engage with Social Media

Phil Wainewright interviews David Vap, VP of products at RightNow Technologies, and finds out how sharing best practices can help businesses understand how best to engage with online communities.

Listen Now

Peter Schooff: Making Every IT Dollar Result in a Desired Business Outcome: Scott Hebner of IBM Rati

Scott Hebner, Vice President of Marketing and Strategy for IBM Rational, discusses a topic on the top of every company's mind today: getting the most from IT investments.

Listen Now

Jessica Ann Mola: Where Will BI Fit In? Lyndsay Wise Explains

In BI, this tough economy and the increasing role of Web 2.0 and MDM are certainly topics on people's minds today. WiseAnalytics' Lyndsay Wise addresses each of them in this informative podcast.

Listen Now

Dennis Byron: Talking with...Deepak Singh of BPM Provider Adeptia

Deepak Singh, President and CTO of Adeptia, joins ebizQ's Dennis Byron in a podcast that gets its hand around the trend of industry-specific BPM.

Listen Now
More Podcasts
  • Most Popular
  • Quick Guide
  • Most Discussed

Quick Guide: What is BPM?

Learn More

Quick Guide: What is Event Processing?

Smart event processing can help your company run smarter and faster. This comprehensive guide helps you research the basics of complex event processing (CEP) and learn how to get started on the right foot with your CEP project using EDA, RFID, SOA, SCADA and other relevant technologies. Learn More

Quick Guide: What is Enterprise 2.0?

A lot of people are talking about Enterprise 2.0 as being the business application of Web 2.0 technology. However, there's still some debate on exactly what this technology entails, how it applies to today's business models, and which components bring true value. Some use the term Enterprise 2.0 exclusively to describe the use of social networking technologies in the enterprise, while others use it to describe a web economy platform, or the technological framework behind such a platform. Still others say that Enterprise 2.0 is all of these things. Learn More

Featured Bloggers

Scott Cleveland's Latest Blog Posts:

Read Scott Cleveland's Blog
Adrian Grigoriu's Latest Blog Posts:

Read Adrian Grigoriu's Blog
Steven Minsky's Latest Blog Posts:

Read Steven Minsky's Blog
Noam Tamarkin's Latest Blog Posts:

Read Noam Tamarkin's Blog
Dion Hinchcliffe's Latest Blog Posts:

Read Dion Hinchcliffe's Blog
Michael Poulin's Latest Blog Posts:

Read Michael Poulin's Blog
Janne J. Korhonen's Latest Blog Posts:

Read Janne J. Korhonen's Blog

View All ebizQ Bloggers