Decision Logic: One of Those Dirty Little Secrets


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CRM attracts big thinkers – people attracted to “big change.” So we shouldn’t be surprised that drilling down into minutia doesn’t rank high on most CRM folks’ hit lists. However, as companies realize that customers are demanding more and more employee empowerment, that customers are getting pickier and pickier about how, when and what we communicate to them, and that large buyers are starting to influence or even control production and delivery schedules – the need to get elbow deep in managing messy details increases from several perspectives.

First, companies can’t empower employees without incurring more risk. Hence, empowerment must be accompanied by risk management, which must be provided by carefully scripted logic built into our automation tools. And this stuff can get more than a little complex, as in the case of bank lending officers who need a carefully crafted framework from which they can make variable decisions without crossing over into high risk territory. Far from “making it up as they go along,” loan officers have to process a range of inputs – including their intuitive sense of the customer – before flexing policies to accommodate individual cases without crossing the line. And if you want proof of that, just look at the mortgage industry today. What’s behind the mess there, other than greed? Lack of process control providing decision logic.

Have you ever tried to map a lending decision process? If you’re implementing CRM at a financial institution, you have no choice but to map it in order to mitigate risk. Despite the fact that mapping lending process takes gobs of time and incredible attention to detail. But you can’t accurately map something this complex by lining a conference room’s walls with brown craft paper and drawing lines and boxes. Or even by skipping the paper routine and drawing boxes and lines in Visio. You really should use a decision mapping automation tool – which, unfortunately, many CRM practitioners don’t possess or even vaguely understand how to use.

Let’s keep the lending example and look at it from another angle. What if you’re approving credit online, without human intervention, where there’s risk of being either too stringent or not stringent enough? If you apply too restrictive standards, you risk alienating good customers. But if you’re too lax, you’ll wind up replicating the mortgage mess. To find a happy medium, you have to carefully prioritize and weight factors, a seemingly endless list of factors, which requires a “logic tree” than can span many, many pages of intricate process maps. Again, you can’t do it with brown paper (or flip charts) and magic markers – or with Visio. You virtually have to sit down at a computer with process automation software and carefully and methodically design the decision logic. Unfortunately, the more typical case is the business side handing IT some rough guidlines and saying, “Program it.” And then we wonder why we wind up denying credit to the credit-worthy while loaning big bucks to high risk customers.

But financial services is hardly the only business sector where CRM has to get “down and dirty” to support complex processes. Companies with high value customers that are trying to manage complex opt-in/opt-out scenarios with numerous “exceptions to the rules” have these issues. So do B2B companies forced by market conditions to manage complex pricing/discount schedules. As do MTO (make-to-order) manufacturers with defined capacity that have to allocate scarce resources among competing customers – and do it on a more thought-through level than “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” or “first in/first out.”

We could go on and on with examples. But bottom line, it’s time for CRM and CRM practitioners to start applying and automating sophisticated business rule sets – and start using much more sophisticated tools and approaches. Or more in the vernacular, “Slop time is over.” CRM has a growing number of serious responsibilities, and we’re all going to have to “get dirty” doing them. You betcha.


  1. Dick

    As you hint at, but do not develop further in your post, the secret to decision logic is not in mapping the processes or the flow of work through them (they are one and the same in all modern process mapping approaches), but in setting out the business rules that control how the processes are carried out.

    You can use ‘logic trees’ to set out the rules in a simple tree-like structure. This has the advantage of being easy to develop, but the disadvantages of quickly becoming too complex to understand and practically impossible to maintain.

    It is far better to use a declarative approach to business rules and to implement them in a robust business rules engine such as that supplied by Haley Systems. This has the disdvantage of being more difficult to develop, but the advantages of being able to implement even the most complex business rules, of the rules being much easier to maintain throughout their lifecycle and of allowing changes to business rules to be simulated to see their effects on the business before they are actually implemented. It is for these reasons that CRM packages increasingly come with a business rules engine included with them.

    If you want to learn more about the declarative approach to business rules take a look at the many articles at the Business Rules Community or at Barbara von Halle’s excellent book Business Rules Applied: Building Better Systems Using the Business Rules Approach.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager

  2. Dick Lee – Graham, I wrote a blog, not a book. And you misunderstand my point about mapping decision logic. You can formulate business rules until you’re blue in the face – and still not be assured you’ve covered all contingencies. Mapping forces you to encounter contingencies that you would otherwise miss. Of course you need to start with setting policies, that doesn’t bear repeating. But that’s insufficient. You have to drill down deeper, which mapping accomplishes. And by the way, we have multiple approaches to process mapping available to us, some designed for individual work process only, others that try to combine work process and workflow (almost always unsuccessful), and some that apply to workflow only. Failure to understand the multiple mprocess mapping approaches is among the core problems in the process biz today.

    ButI do appreciate your thoughts.

  3. Dick

    I think I may have inadvertently confused matters with my earlier comment.

    Of course you need to map processes. They are the framework from which you hang the business rules. As you suggest, as you go deeper into the workings of the processes you eventually reach a point where, in the past you would have documented detailed procedures complete with logic trees, but today you should document declarative business rules to feed a business rules engine.

    I have been involved in business process reengineering (and all that entails) for over 15 years. In that time I have learnt and used many different process mapping approaches: US Govt’s IDEF/SADT, PwC’s SIPCO, Zachman’s Framework, Kingman-Brundage’s Servicescaping, LMI’s Lean Administration and newer ones like Womack & Jones’ Lean Consumption (which drives everything in the light of value delivery to the customer).

    Each of the approaches look at the proceses that do the work, the flow of work through the processes and the business rules that control how the work is done. In each of the approaches, the three views are interwoven into a systemic whole that focusses on how work is done and how the work adds value in the real world, rather than artificially separating out the process and workflow views as you describe.

    As we enter a growth period where young managers are once again starting to learn the process reengineering ropes, it is important that they learn systemic approaches that focus on value-delivery to customers (like Womack & Jones’ Lean Consumption approach) that have been tried & tested in government and industry. We all know what happened in the last BPR revolution when untrained managers used inappropriate approaches.

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager


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