Friday, June 29, 2007

James Taylor on His New Book

A few months ago, James Taylor of Fair Isaac asked me to look over a proof of Smart (Enough) Systems, a book he has co-written with industry guru Neil Raden of Hired Brains. The topic, of course, is enterprise decision management, which the book explains in great detail. It has now been released (you can order through Amazon or James or Neil), so I asked James for a few comments to share.

What did you hope to accomplish with this book? Fame and fortune. Seriously, what I wanted to do was bring a whole bunch of threads and thoughts together in one place with enough space to develop ideas more fully. I have been writing about this topic a lot for several years and seen lots of great examples. The trouble is that a blog ( and articles only give you so much room – you tend to skim each topic. A book really let me and Neil delve deeper into the whys and hows of the topic. Hopefully the book will let people see how unnecessarily stupid their systems are and how a focus on the decisions within those systems can make them more useful.

What are the biggest obstacles to EDM and how can people overcome them?
- One is the belief that they need to develop “smart” systems and that this requires to-be-developed technology from the minds of researchers and science-fiction writers. Nothing could be further from the truth – the technology and approach to make systems be smart enough are well established and proven.

- Another is the failure to focus on decisions as critical aspects of their systems. Historically many decisions were taken manually or were not noticed at all. For instance, a call center manager might be put on the line to approve a fee refund for a good customer when the decision could have been taken by the system the call center representative was using without the need for a referral. That’s a unnecessarily manual decision. A hidden decision might be something like the options on an IVR system. Most companies make them the same for everyone yet once you know who is calling you could decide to give them a personalized set of options. Most companies don’t even notice this kind of decision and so take it poorly.

- Many companies have a hard time with “trusting” software and so like to have people make decisions. Yet the evidence is that the judicious use of automation for decisions can free up people to make the kinds of decisions they are really good at and let machines take the rest.

- Companies have become convinced that business intelligence means BI software and so they don’t think about using that data to make predictions of the future or the use of those predictions to improve production systems. This is changing slowly as people realize how little value they are getting out of looking backwards with their data instead of looking forwards.

Can EDM be deployed piecemeal (individual decisions) or does it need some overarching framework to understand each decision's long-term impact?
It can and should be deployed piecemeal. Like any approach it becomes easier once a framework is in place and part of an organizations standard methodology but local success with the automation and management of an individual decision is both possible and recommended for getting started.

The more of the basic building blocks of a modern enterprise architecture you have the better. Automated decisions are easier to embed if you are adopting SOA/BPM, easier to monitor if you have BI/Performance Management working and more accurate if your data is integrated and managed. None of these are pre-requisites for initial success though.

The book is very long. What did you leave out? Well, I think it is a perfect length! What we left out were detailed how-tos on the technology and a formal methodology/project plans for individual activities. The book pulls together various themes and technologies and shows how they work together but it does not replace the kind of detail you would get in a book on business rules or analytics nor does it replace the need for analytic and systems development methods be they agile or Unified Process or CRISP-DM.


James Taylor said...

Thanks for the coverage! There is a companion website too -

Neil Raden said...

You know how some movies obviously end with a sequel in mind? Did I detect a hint of that in James' comment about what we left out?