Extra Power For Business Recovery Planning
By Mark W. Avery
There is a misconception of expert systems within the contingency planning industry. The term Expert System is often misused
by marketers in this industry.
For instance, many software systems designed for contingency plan development are based on a word processor and/or some sort of database, either relational or flat file.
While these systems were developed by contingency planning experts, most of the systems themselves are not expert systems.
An expert system is one that has been developed by both contingency planning experts and knowledge engineers (usually a specialized programmer).
The planning expert works closely with the knowledge engineer to develop a system that closely reproduces the experts planning methodology.
The experts specialized knowledge is captured by the knowledge engineer and converted into an extensive set of rules.
The rule-based inference engine forms the heart of the expert system.
It is through this inference engine that the experts knowledge is constantly and consistently available.
This allows you to rely on expert knowledge, not next guy knowledge.
WHY USE AN EXPERT SYSTEM?
The intent of software systems designed for contingency planning is twofold.
First, these systems must assist with the implementation and maintenance of a plan.
Second, the system must produce a powerful and manageable plan.
Most commercially available systems, whether word processing or database oriented, assist the planner in some form.
The expert system, however, allows the planner to reach his goals faster and more easily than ever before.
WHAT MAKES AN EXPERT SYSTEM MORE EFFICIENT?
A true expert system for contingency planning offers two major benefits over conventional word processor/database systems. First, because it has built in intelligence, it allows the user to develop a working plan more quickly. Once a prototype plan has been developed, it can be refined through a reiterating process.
Second, the true expert system provides a control system that lets the user get at information using plain English (natural language), not complex query languages.
RAPID PLAN DEVELOPMENT
Advanced expert systems for contingency planning speed plan development by helping the planner to determine quickly which business functions or applications are essential to continued operation following a major disaster. These systems ask department heads and application users a series of questions about a business function or application. The systems inference engine will analyze the answers in conjunction with senior managements evaluation criteria (also known as rules of thumb or heuristics) to determine if a function or application is critical, necessary, or optional.
The expert system will even explain how it arrived at its decision. This information is maintained in a relational database table that provides a series of predefined reports, as well as the natural language interface.
The natural language interface allows the user to report/retrieve information from the table using requests posed in English, not a complex query langage. The natural language interface translates English requests into an SQL (structured query language) query, and the system then runs the query for the user. Leading expert systems for business recovery planning extensively use this accessible, yet powerful, control scheme.
A word processor is the best tool for publishing the recovery plan, and relational database is currently the best way to maintain extremely dynamic information, such as ever-changing lists of personnel, equipment, and other resources.
A business recovery planning system that incorporates a word processor, a relational database, and the unique power of an expert system will make the planners task that much easier. This type of system will allow a plan to be more quickly and easily published, and it will allow the dynamic information contained within it to be more easily maintained.
The integration of word processor, database, and expert system must be seamless. Products that try to assist with the contingency planning process but require a separate data base and text processor actually create more problems than they solve. Without a close link among the systems modules, trouble can arise.
For example, if a change is made within the database, the same change must then be made everywhere it is found in the text-based plan. There is no automated check to ensure data integrity. An integrated expert system will check the integrity of data entered into the database and then automatically insert the information into the text-based plan.
EASIER TO USE DURING A CRISIS
While there will always be a dependence on paper in contingency planning, the natural language interface is invaluable when the plan is used on line. During a disaster, quick and easy retrieval of information is of the utmost importance. The recovery planner cannot know who will need to access the on-line recovery plan prior to a disaster.
Rather than having to teach every potential user a query or report language, expert systems understand requests in English. This improves the flow of information during a crisis.
For instance, if a disaster occurs on the third floor of Building 9, you could enter the natural language interface and ask, What departments are located on Floor 3 of Building 9?Any English paraphrase of this questions will result in the same output by the system. The output can also be sent to the printer. You could go on to ask, What equipment will be needed by claims processing? This query method is more efficient and easier to use than searching a document file-by-file or by making an ad hoc report.
The debate over what is the best method for creating a contingency planword processor or databasewill probably continue for years to come. Both tools have their advantages and disadvantages. However, as outlined here, expert systems that effortlessly integrate both disciplines and offer the additional benefits of speed, flexibility, and ease-of-use, move contingency planning to a higher level of productivity and scope.
Roadway Express Uses Expert System
Mark W. Avery is Vice President of Recovery Management, Inc.
This article adapted from Vol. 3 No. 2, p. 39.
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