Saturday, January 31, 2009

On Decision Agents

Decisions are part of the enterprise life as well as the life of every individual. Take a decision that many of the readers have experienced: naming children. My wife and myself have realized in very early phase that we have completely different taste in names, so we have decided to agree on a protocol for how names are selected: taking turns - one of us is making a list of five names, and the other selects a name from this list. The selection is done only after the birth, and the list can be modified until the selection made. To be fair we need even number of children so each will play any of the roles equal amount of times (indeed we have four children which satisfies this requirement). This is actually work, none of us got the first priority, and none of us have to tolerate a name we really hate.

In the paragraph above I have described a manual decision, but increasingly decisions are made by computer software which makes or recommends decisions. James Taylor is constantly talking about "Decision Agents". I thought that it will be interested to look at this notion and discuss how it is related to event processing.

We can say that a "decision agent" has various properties that we can qualify as answer to questions:

  • Why ? what is the reason that the decision agent activated. In the example above -- the birth of a child.
  • which ? which information is needed in order to make this decision. In the example above --- the list of five names (which have been obtained by another decision or collection of decisions) .
  • How? How the decision is made. In the example above --- by some human cognitive process, which may have reflection in a computerized decision agent.
Back to our world of event processing, we are using the term "event processing agent" to denote a software artifact that gets one or more event as an input, does something, and produces one or more events as an output.

The question is what is the relationship between decision agent and event processing agent ?

In a (not very recent) postings
, Carole-An Matignon from Fair Isaac has attempted to demystify some terms. She used an analogy to the human body, saying that BRMS is the brain, while event processing is the sensor for the brain to get the decisions. So is event processing agent is a sensing agent ?

The answer is --- the terms decision agent and event processing agent do intersect, but none of them subsumes the other.

Returning to the decision agent questions.

The why question:
A decision may be required since some situation has occurred, because some relevant fact has changed, or because somebody made an explicit request to activate the decision agent. In the first case (a situation has occurred), then this situation may be a simple event, but also may be a leaf of an event processing network. In this case, there may be some event processing agents that are part of the decision to activate the agent, so it is part of the brain.

The which question: Here again the information needed can vary -- it may relate to the present state, to the history of states, and transitions. Event processing agents can be used to prepare the required information, by taking events and filter, transform, enrich, aggregate, split and more. In this case the event processing agent is indeed a sensor, creating input for the decision.

The how question: There are various techniques to get a decision, detecting patterns on the event history may be a method to obtain a decision, together with other techniques, such as inferring from facts and rules, applying stochastic decision reasoning and more. This does not say that every event processing agent which performs "pattern detection" is indeed a decision agent, sometimes it just derive event that will be used directly or indirectly as input to a decision.
Interestingly, this is true for business rules as well. A business rule may derive new fact, the fact itself is not a decision, for example, it may be classification of a customer based on demographic information. The output of this rule is used as input to (another) decision agent. So BRMS like event processing can also play the role of both sensors and brain.

To summarize:

  • An Event Processing Agent may be a Decision Agent, or provider of input or trigger to other decision agents.
  • The same statement is also true for "state processing" business rule.
  • A decision agent may be Event Processing Agent, but also can consist of several other types of agents.
  • There may be blend of decision agents of various types inter-related. I'll write more in the future about this assertion.

1 comment:

James Taylor said...

Great post - check out my comments over on my ebizQ blog. One of the challenges in decisioning is that decision agents and decision services are also "regular" agents or services.

CEO Decision Management Solutions
Main blog: JT on EDM