The Next Big Thing
Posts about next generation technologies and their effect on business.

Business Schools and Information Technology

I was sitting in on a meeting of the Information Technology and Operations Management (ITOM) curriculum committee at SMU the other day. One of the interesting things that has happened at business schools across the country is that they have reduced the number of core hours and increased the amount of classes students could specialize. This leads to many people having quite a bit of exposure to finance (for example) but significantly less in other broad ranging areas they may encounter after they graduate. Generally, the committee thought that this trend had gone too far and there was a need to strengthen the core, since many students were coming back to the professors after graduating and asking about how to do various business related activities that were outside their specialty.


One area we were discussing was: "What areas related to the use of information and computing techniques should everyone have more exposure?" What new areas of specialization are needed as well? Naturally, I hopped on the modeling and simulation bandwagon, since I believe all people in business are going to have significantly more exposure to it in the future. Not that I'd expect them to design the experiments... at a foundational level, but they should at least understand how to use the results. Now if it was an area they were going to specialize in, then they should have more hands on experience with industry models and making adjustments.  I still say this is the low hanging fruit for cloud computing usage, since it can take advantage of the highly parallel possibilities.


I was surprised by the significant decrease in the number of hours in the classroom at the same time as tuition increases. Those issues are not limited to SMU though.

Case Management Process Modeling Challenges

The Object Management Group (OMG) has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a Case Management Process Modeling specification.  This RFP will require the integration of process models, data models and rules to provide guidance and record the history of processes that adapt as a result of particular circumstances, events and human judgment.


This is the result of efforts I discussed in July under Knowledge-Driven Processes for Healthcare. The RFP refers to these adaptive processes as case management rather than knowledge-driven because case management is a more widely recognized characterization and focuses on the business objective.


Case management processes may be initiated by conventional, prescribed business processes as specified in BPMN (Business Process Modeling and Notation) and they may engage prescribed business processes to perform desired actions.  In addition, a case management process model may be refined over time to become more prescribed.  Consequently, a case management process model should integrate with BPMN process models, and it should be represented with notation and operational semantics that are consistent with BPMN so that processes can evolve from ad hoc to prescribed as practices become more refined and predictable.


The focus of a case management process is a case.  A case is a situation to be managed.  It may be related to a person to be helped, a problem to be resolved, a repair to be performed, a solution to be defined, a lawsuit to be resolved, a claim to be settled or a variety of similar situations.  In a case management process, the case is represented by a case file containing records that contain data on the history of the case and the current situation.


The case file will be updated by the case management process to record the current situation, new information, decisions and actions performed.  However, many case file records are obtained from other sources.  Consequently, the content and format of these records will be defined outside the case management process model.  From an OMG modeling perspective, these records should be defined in an IMM model (Information Management Metamodel). IMM provides logical data modeling and transformations to different data formats such as object-oriented, hierarchical, relational and XML.  It is currently under development. At the same time, case management guidance and constraints will depend on the content of these records, so the fields must be accessible by rules.


The application of rules to define process guidance and constraints is a primary contribution of the case management process modeling specification.  The case management process will be refined over time by the addition of rules that make the process more predictable and reliable.  Rules will provide guidance by suggesting actions that may be appropriate under current circumstances.  Rules will define events of interest—changes of state reflected in the case file, that may result in alerts or initiation of immediate action.  Rules will define constraints on actions that could be detrimental such as administration of a medication to an allergic patient.  Rules may also define process constraints reflecting policies or regulations.


Rules must be written with reference to the case file data and the related actions.  There are several OMG specifications for modeling rules, and it would be undesirable to define yet another rule language for case management.  Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Rules (SBVR) models the semantics of business vocabulary and provides expression of rules in a natural-language-like form using a defined vocabulary.  Object Constraint Language (OCL) is the constraint language of the Unified Modeling Language (UML).  Production Rule Representation (PRR) defines rules for rules engines.  Business Process Modeling and Notation (BPMN 2.0) also includes some rule modeling.  The RFP requires the reuse of existing rule specifications.  It will be up to submitters to determine which is most suitable.


As OMG develops a more complete set of modeling specifications, the compatibility and integration of models has become an increasingly important challenge.  The Case Management Process Modeling specification is a good example.  Efforts are under way in OMG to define a general approach and supporting technology.

Goal-oriented computing

One of ways that I believe information technology will be shifting is to become much more enterprise goal-oriented. Money spent on IT is strategic for the enterprise and there was an article in the November IEEE journal titled: Toward the Realization of Policy-Oriented Enterprise Management that backs up this perspective. It describes:

A goal-driven approach to business process composition uses generic, logic-based strategies, descriptions of Web services, and formalized business policies to generate business processes that satisfy the stated business goals. The approach is based on an enterprise physics metaphor, in which business objects are analogous to physical objects and policies are analogous to physical laws.

 Much like the balanced scorecard approach is focused on visibility into the cause and effect of activities on initiatives to addressing goals and realize vision. This document takes a more cause and effect view of the use of services in addressing the goals of the enterprise.

 

As we have greater computational power available and better simulation, business rules and workflow, we can “show the applicability, value and feasibility of using computational logical in modern enterprise management as a next step in software development” , more closely linking business knowledge with the software engineer’s view.

 

The move to an enterprise goal oriented perspective will be a significant shift in the role of the CIO and perspective of IT within the enterprise.

Labels: Business rules| CIO
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  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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