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Interview James Taylor Decision Management Expert (Updated)

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Quick update

James is hosting a webinar series on decision manaement, predictive analytics and business rules this fall. You can check out the webinars and register for some or all at https://decisionmanagement.omnovia.com/registration

Here is an interview with James Taylor, a leading consultant and evangelist in the emerging field of converging decision management.

Ajay- Describe your career in science. What fascinates you with reporting on this segment. How would you interest freshmen students in taking up statistics and math courses.

James- I took Geological Geophysics and Mathematics in college but graduated in a year when the oil price was in free fall and never worked in geophysics. Since then I have worked in computers, mostly focused on how they can be applied rather than on how they work. I am not sure I would say that this represents a career in science so much a career enabled by science and, increasingly, watching science.

As far as math goes I actually think the problem is at the other end of the spectrum. Far too many people leave school without a feel for math – it is taught in a very narrow way and leaves far too many feeling that math is something that other people do. In a world with more and more data, and more and more statistics/data-driven decisions this is not ok. We need everyone in business to be able to consume math intelligently, even if they can’t develop mathematical models themselves. Continuing with traditional math teaching in high school and college is just excluding most people and that has to end.

Ajay- What are the various stages of evolution that you have seen in the Decision Management Industry, including the prevailing jargon name.

James- Decision Management applications have been around for years, albeit primarily in the financial services industry. They used to all have their own categories – fraud systems, origination systems, account management systems – and this was the beginning of the category. One of the first things I did at FICO was describe all these applications as a set – recognizing that the same approach and the same cluster of technologies was being used in each case. Back in 2002 I and some colleagues started calling this approach Enterprise Decision Management. Back then most decision management was enabled by these packaged applications and the tools that could be used to build custom applications were talked about separately – business rules, optimization, predictive analytics.

Over the last 6 years the focus on decisions in each of these areas has increased – more rules people talk about managing decisions with rules and there’s more talk of improving operational decisions in predictive analytics and optimization circles. There’s more talk of using the tools/technologies together and a growing range of integrated suites/platforms.

Where most companies stand today is wanting the kind of capabilities that can only be delivered by applying decision management techniques and technologies but they are not yet asking for decision management. They want, for instance, consistent personalized offers across channels but they are not asking for centralized decision management. Based on previous experience I think this will change steadily over the next year or two with the number of companies asking explicitly for decision management capabilities rising.

From a name perspective we have evolved too. Over time it has become clear that the “Enterprise” was misinterpreted as a call for Enterprise-wide implementation of decision management when it was meant as a call from enterprise ownership of decisions. As a result some folks talk about Business Decision Management and I just like to talk about Decision Management.

Ajay- Why is Decision Management more important than say performance management, business intelligence, predictive analytics.

James- I am not sure it is more important. Most organizations need business intelligence to understand what happened in their business and they need performance management to monitor what is happening now. This kind of understanding is important in successful decision management implementations. And decision management is a management discipline designed, in part, to put predictive analytics to work in operational systems.

I do think a focus on decision is vital to all of them, however. If you don’t understand the decisions you are making it is hard for me to see how you can judge the effectiveness of either business intelligence or performance management. And predictive analytics should be even more decision-centric if it is to be effective. So a focus on decisions is a necessary prerequisite and the management of those decisions, using rules and analytics, is a great way to maximize their value in operational systems.

Ajay- What are your views on offshoring 1) High quality research 2) Labor Arbitrage technical work 3) Cost cutting driven

James- Well I think offshoring is an inevitable consequence of an interconnected world. I also think that companies that offshore simply to reduce cost deserve the employee and customer loyalty they will get as a consequence!

I do think that companies should make thoughtful decisions about what to do where, when something must be handled centrally and when it can be pushed to different localities etc. I think that smarter systems – systems that manage decisions explicitly – can help in this and help companies have a real DNA when it comes to decision making.

Ajay- What are the top 5 principles of Decision Management , as you would explain to a class of business graduates and CEO’s

James-

1. Little decisions add up

The day to day decisions that drive operational behavior, customer interactions, transactional systems are more important than the big, strategic decisions beloved of management consultants. Each one seems unimportant but they happen so often that their total value swamps anything else you do. If you get these decisions wrong it won’t matter what you get right.

2. The purpose of information is to decide

Deming has a famous quote that “The ultimate purpose of collecting the data is to provide a basis for action or a recommendation”. The reason you collect data, report on data, analyze data is to make better decisions. Otherwise it’s just a cost. And unless you know which decision you are making, and what will make it a good or a bad one, then all the data in the world (and all the data management or data analysis) will not help you.

3. You cannot afford to lock up your logic

Decision making logic- the policies, regulations, best practices and customer preferences that drive decision making – cannot be locked up in code you cannot read, systems you do not understand. No matter what else might be handled by your IT people, business decision making logic must not be. You must at least be able to collaborate with your IT folks and manage it with them. You must be responsible for this logic.

4. No answer, no matter how good, is static

Organizations must realize that they have to constantly analyze, reassess and challenge their decision making process. The effectiveness of a decision can often not be determined for some time and even a good decision can be degraded by a change in the behavior of a competitor or a change in the market. As such constant challenging of the decision making approach, constant A/B testing or adaptive control is essential if decisions are to remain effective.

5. Decision making is a process to be managed

The way you make decisions is something you must understand, document, automate and analyze. Good managers, good staff, have a good decision making process. Good outcomes might result from luck or circumstance but you don’t want to rely on that. Instead you want to focus on quality decision making processes. And like many repeatable processes, automating decision making makes it easier to analyze and improve it over time.

UPDATE-

James has agreed to schedule a free webinar to explain it more fully. Anyone who wants can register at https://decisionmanagement.omnovia.com/registration/pid=74151252469530

Ajay- What does James Taylor do when not in front of a computer, a podium or an airport. How important do you think is work life balance particularly for young people

James- Well I am a parent, a partner and an avid reader and between them those use up most of my non-work time. I really enjoy my work which makes it hard to stop sometimes. I think life/work balance is important but so is enthusiasm for what one does. Perhaps I am kidding myself but I think there is a difference between putting a lot of hours into something about which you are passionate and putting a lot of work into something just to get ahead or to avoid the rest of your life.

Ajay- Do you think BI world is male dominated. What could be the reasons.

James- Yes. The usual sexism of business combined with the average age of BI people (younger groups seem more mixed in general).

Ajay- Green economy and stimulus macro economics. How can both these fields benefit from Decision Management

James- From a macro stimulus point of view I think the key thing is that governments around the world throw money at companies specializing in decision management. <smile>

The green economy, however, is more interesting. Personally I don’t see how smart grids can be made to work without a solid core of powerful decisioning. Green marketing requires personalization and targeting to avoid waste (more decisioning) while helping consumers make better decisions about products based on green criteria needs to be built into shopping engines like Amazon’s if it is to make a real difference. Being green is all about making greener decisions and making systems make greener decisions takes decision management and decisioning technology.

Biography-

James Taylor is a leading expert in Decision Management and an independent consultant specializing in helping companies automate and improve critical decisions. Previously James was a Vice President at Fair Isaac Corporation where he developed and refined the concept of enterprise decision management or EDM. Widely credited with the invention of the term and the best known proponent of the approach, James helped create the Decision Management market and is its most passionate advocate.

James has 20 years experience in all aspects of the design, development, marketing and use of advanced technology including CASE tools, project planning and methodology tools as well as platform development in PeopleSoft’s R&D team and consulting with Ernst and Young. He has consistently worked to develop approaches, tools and platforms that others can use to build more effective information systems.

James is an active consultant, speaker and author. He is a prolific blogger, with regular posts at jtonedm.com and ebizq.net/blogs/decision_management. He also has an Expert Channel – Decision Management – on the BI Network.

His articles appear in industry magazines, he has contributed chapters to “The Business Rules Revolution:Doing Business The Right Way” (Happy About, 2006) and “Business Intelligence Implementation : Issues and Perspectives” (ICFAI University Press, 2006), and is the co-author of “Smart (Enough) Systems: How to Deliver Competitive Advantage by Automating Hidden Decisions ” (Prentice Hall, 2007) with Neil Raden .

James is a highly sought speaker, appearing frequently at industry conferences, events and seminars. He is also a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley.

James has an M.S. in Business Systems Analysis and Design from City University, London; a B.S. in Geological Geophysics and Mathematics from the University of Reading, England; and a “Mini-MBA” certificate from the Silicon Valley Executive Business Program at San Jose State University.

You can contact James at james@jtonedm.com


2 Comments

  1. [...] of DecisionStats.com has a selection of interviews with people in the BI/analytics space, including James Taylor and John Fox, the creator of R [...]

  2. [...] James gave an interview to DecisionStats, a blog that interviews experts in data mining and anlaytics. Interview James Taylor Decision Management Expert « Decision Stats. [...]

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