Wednesday Jan 08, 2014

Building an Oracle Policy Automation Center of Excellence

Matthew Bickham | OPA Implementation Manager (Europe) & Center of Excellence Facilitator

Introduction

We all know Oracle Policy Automation (OPA) enables business experts to be able to create sophisticated rulebase applications directly without the need to have a background or qualification in software development. The diagram below provides an overview of the steps that are normally conducted to build an OPA rulebase:  

Business rule authors are critical to every project and to wrap them into a structure, I always encourage customers to establish a Center of Excellence (CoE) where talent, skills, processes and disciplines are centrally governed within a business. Whilst business experts may not initially have the skills to build software, the CoE approach provides everything needed to grow capability and confidence in authoring rules and systems that significantly outweighs any nervousness that may have existed at the outset. This is very important because initially not all organizations are ready to take the leap of faith needed for business experts to play a more development role. For those that do, there are significant rewards. Just some quotes from our CoEs:

“OPA is the most innovative technology on our estate”

“OPA has paid for itself 7 times over and that is just with our first project!”

“OPA is a game changer. We would never have been able to achieve what we have done using any other method or technology”

OPA Projects

Any project is often born through a business need to build a system to meet a brand-new requirement. In terms of OPA this will mean that a project will include a requirement for a system to automatically make a complex decision on behalf of the organization using rules and building a customer experience friendly interview that will include assessment screens, smooth screen-flow, data validation, look-ups (of known data) and documented outputs of the rulebase determinations that are made.

Projects are normally resourced to meet the needs of the project and formed based on the availability of key people, timelines to deliver and scope of the project work. Given these variables, a lot is left to chance and luck. Rulebase resources may require initial training but there is a tension to deliver in an agile way and this needs the team to be properly trained, experienced and ready to start creating rulebase components from day one. Forming a brand new project team for every project is very difficult given issues with availability of key experts. A much better approach is to build a Center of Excellence that maintains skills and grows capability so that with every new project the team grows in strength.

The Benefits

An OPA CoE addresses start-up issues because every project is safely delivered within a structure that already has the capability and skills to deliver a project from the beginning. It will contain a pool of resources at various skills levels. Senior members of the team will evolve through experience and lead areas of work including rules architecture, test management, project management and technical architecture. The CoE is special in that it is business centric but includes IT team members who must connect and manage the integration between OPA and other systems. This enables the business authors to remain focused on delivering projects using their skills to the full.

So why is an OPA Center of Excellence any different to any other CoE? The key difference is that the CoE is business focused with more Subject Matter Experts involved more directly with building and testing rulebase components than ever before. This is not only limited to rule authoring. Those involved in testing utilize tools within OPA itself (regression tester, what-if analysis, test coverage reporting etc) to verify rules directly, safely navigating rules and components at a read-only level. Powerful test suites are developed by business experts directly into a rulebase and each key outcome is tested against manually created expected outcomes. The business expert has responsibility for this work and has proven to significantly reduce the time to develop and test solutions, not leaving all the testing effort until the end. In addition, our customers report that defect-free systems are commonplace with OPA after initial implementation because the experts in that area of the business were more intimately involved in the authoring and testing process throughout. Due to OPA’s unique natural language capability, rules are easily read and understood by testers and other members of the team and this is one of the key factors in its success.

Becoming an OPA CoE

There is a process to becoming an OPA CoE. Oracle has assisted many organizations build their structure and capability which establishes a robust model for the successful delivery of projects that utilizes OPA in the future. To start, a Center of Excellence requires management and governance to control, direct and prioritize the work that is conducted. For most, this is led by a business manager with skills to manage resources across projects and business areas. Next, there is organization and structure to the Center of Excellence. For the resource teams, training and a qualification in OPA is achieved to an advanced level to ensure that the team members are fully skilled to successfully deliver projects with the product. A skills matrix is formed and a detailed record is kept of the skills attained as the experience of each member of the team grows. A CoE will also want to be known within the business and a communication plan is created to inform internal and external stakeholders about its purpose and vision. Other criteria exist to achieve recognition and includes adherence to best practices design standards, rule authoring guidelines and the control of rules within a configuration management system.

For all OPA CoEs there is now access to an exclusive online Oracle work-group that allows for greater sharing of knowledge, promotes decision of OPA related topics and provides valuable information about forthcoming events.

Summary

The OPA CoE approach has provided many OPA customers with a valuable structure and focus that has truly maximized the use of the technology and has built a strong team around it. ‘Growing your own’ OPA capability is part of the whole ethos behind the application and true value has been achieved when our customers have taken this best practice approach.  

Please get in touch if you would like to find out more.

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