Smart Enough Systems

James Taylor and Neil Raden

Publisher Prentice Hall
ISBN 9780132347969
RRP $44.99
Reviewed by Ian Graham FBCS
Score 9 out of 10

Smart Enough Systems Up until recently, operational systems have been separated from decision support systems. The former manipulate data to control and support business functions while the latter transform and enhance data for the benefit of knowledge workers. These workers must then analyse the results and submit change requests to IT to get any requisite changes actioned. It is a slow and unpredictable process.

As a result, process improvement only takes place at a coarse granularity and the millions of customer-facing micro-decisions embedded in systems cannot be upgraded.

This book considers the appropriate response of modem companies to the convergence of several technologies around the issue of operational decision automation: business process management, data mining, service-oriented architecture, business intelligence and performance monitoring, business activity monitoring, data warehousing and business rules.

Having said this, the book's clear emphasis is on the benefits of using business rules (separated from procedural code) enhanced with feedback from predictive analytic and monitoring software.

Although the authors clearly understand the technology, they do not present it in sufficient depth for this understanding to be transferred. The technically inclined reader will therefore have to consult other volumes. Thus, the main beneficiaries from this work will be project managers.

The authors give very detailed listings of the criteria that managers will have to consider when adopting the recommended approach and managing its introduction along with many case studies.

The business rules philosophy is recast as 'enterprise decision management (EDM)' but, essentially, the arguments for EDM are much the same as might be found in any work on business rules.

However, the change in emphasis is significant and valuable. How much business is lost, the authors ask, not because you don't know the rules but because your staff can't activate and apply them quickly, effectively, consistently and adaptively?

What is needed is the encapsulation of such knowledge inside components that act as decision services (often in the SOA sense of the term).

My only quibble was the book's extension of its argument to the real-time adaptive control of businesses. Clearly there are cases where this will work but, as any control engineer will attest, adaptive control often results in unstable and even chaotic behaviour, hunting, flip-flop, jerky response and so on.

A common solution is to smooth the output by using fuzzy rulesets, but all the technology solutions considered do not support fuzzy rules. Some caution and further thought is required in this area.

This is a significant, timely book, spot on for almost anyone concerned with software development. Its core ideas are of critical importance to the modernisation of IT and migration away from the dire state of current practice.

Further information: Prentice Hall