Understanding "Intent-Driven"

Customers often ask me to explain the concept of an "intent-driven" application.   Watching the ongoing health care debate, I'm reminded of the difference between a form-based, incident-driven solution and an "intent-driven" one. 

In articles like this one, journalists and health care professionals are taking a look at how health care is delivered in the US.  Currently, most doctors and hospitals are paid a "fee-per-service," with the doctor and the hospital receiving a payment for every procedure or test they perform.  In many cases, health care experts now believe that this triggers an escalating cost in care.  The various PCP's, specialists and hospitals aren't sharing information and end up focused on the individual incident, not the overall health of the patient. The result is duplicate tests, unnecessary visits and expensive procedures--costs that could have been prevented if they patients care team understood the overall "intent" of their care:  maintaining patient health in the long term.

It may be a clumsy metaphor, but many of the software applications I've encountered at our customers (even those built on BPM technologies), encounter many of the same problems:  duplicate entry of the same data, unnecessary steps even when human involvement isn't required, requiring humans to make decisions without guiding them on the context.  In other words, these applications are not "intent-driven."

One suggested way of fixing health care costs is to change the way doctors and hospitals are paid.  In fact, some health care networks (the Mayo Clinic, for example), have managed to drive down costs while improving patient health by treating health care not as a set of incidents to be addressed, but as an intent  to be achieved and managed towards: the overall, long-term health of the patient. 

PCP's, hospitals and specialists are incentivized to work together towards a common goal, rather than on an incident by incident basis.  Duplicate procedures are eliminated, and expensive emergency care is replaced with preventive measures.  The health care industry's growing interest in "care management" reflects this (and offers a unique opportunity for BPM sofware). This is what an "intent-driven" application attempts to do. 

Rather than focus on an incident by incident (or screen by screen or form by form) approach to an application, it focuses on the intent of the user (process a dispute claim efficiently as possible, deliver meaningful and responsive customer service, etc.), and drives only the data the user needs to accomplish that goal, automating human tasks whenever possible, eliminating duplicate data entry and simplifying the overall user experience.  The result: happier customers who get their goals met faster, more productive users who spend less time doing repetitive or unnecessary tasks, and process- and rules-driven systems that are more agile than their forms-based, code-driven alternatives.  No matter where you stand on the health care debate, that's certainly an improvement.