BPM With Business Rules: Now That's Progress!

Part of any process automation and management solution is having some method of defining and implementing the important (and sometimes unimportant) decision points within a given process.

Of course, in addition to defining these business rules and decision points, a business analyst or developer has to create the high-level business process flow and define how transactions and work progress from one step (or stage) to another. That’s what typical business process management (BPM) solutions are typically designed to do well—enable organizations to model and automate these high-level process flows and transitions.

However, making sure that you’ve explored the implications of capturing your business rules and decision points adequately and in a way that’s both effective and efficient is sometimes equally important.

Thus, as more and more organizations look to BPM solutions as a way to automate their business processes, as well as a way to define and manage the critical decision points within a process, understanding the relationship between business rules and BPM becomes more important.

In past few columns, we’ve looked at some of the reasons that business rules matter, including the fact that they can help combine distributed (or localized) control and optimization with centralized process management. While this can also be done (theoretically) with process models and BPM technologies, it’s often too cumbersome to distribute effectively, or requires too much user training to enable a broad number of business analysts to easily modify processes.

In addition, the more complex, dynamic, or sophisticated the business process, the more likely it will require a high number of business rules — rules that might end up being buried in the process logic or process flow unless the BPM solution offers a specific method for surfacing them separately.

Luckily, there’s help on the way. As BPM solutions continue to mature, more and more vendors have taken the step of adding in (or building on) distinct business rules capabilities, in addition to their standard process modeling and automation capabilities.

Pegasystems was one of the first BPM solutions vendors to highlight the opportunity of fusing business rules technologies with business process management. With its core strength in the financial services arena and a highly solutions-oriented approach, Pegasystems Process Commander has been a suitable choice for very large enterprises looking for a highly scalable business rules-flavored BPM solution.

But now they’re not the only game in town.

As the newer, pure-play BPM companies have matured their product lines and begun to sell larger, more sophisticated enterprise-oriented solutions, they’ve come to realize the need for more discrete and robust business rules capabilities. The latest example of this is the string of BPM vendors that have announced additional business rules capabilities in their existing or upcoming products, including Fuego, Staffware, Intalio, Lombardi, Handysoft, and Q-Link, as well as BPM-related vendors such as Collaxa and Action Technologies. A key force behind many of these announcements has been Corticon Technologies, with its Decision Management Software. Corticon, a privately funded company founded to develop and deliver new enterprise software for the automation and management of decision-intensive business processes, sells primarily through partnerships and OEM relationships. Over the past few years, it has grabbed a significant share of the “business-rules” and BPM market (if you can call it a market).

Unlike some traditional business rules products that might not have any consistency checking built in to their rules system, Corticon’s Decision Management System enables organizations to structure their business rules in an Excel spreadsheet, which enables business analysts to easily ensure that the rules are logically correct before deployment. Thus, individual changes to decision points or business rules will not “break the system” and, and it is easier for average business users to alter or modify business rules without having to involve IT.

Why all the interest from BPM companies? BPM products are good at capturing the work, routing it, providing interfaces to users, integrating with back-end systems, and monitoring and managing a business process flow. But they tend not to excel at defining and managing the actual decisions done by the people sitting at their desks, using the system.

Corticon (and many BPM companies) see rules-based decision management capabilities as a way to effectively and efficiently automate those decision points. For example, by using Corticon’s technologies, organizations can identify those decision-making activities, use a spreadsheet interface to model, analyze, and test the appropriate rules to handle those activities, and then create a decision service that can be deployed into the process flow of the BPM system.

Given that a major characteristic of most BPM solutions is that they will be constantly changing, the addition of business rules capabilities such as Corticon’s Decision Management System to a variety of different BPM products is clear step forward for the BPM industry.

In light of this, organizations considering BPM solutions should make sure to consider when and where these business rules capabilities would be useful in their particular scenarios, and how future enhancements of business rules technology might benefit their strategic plan.

About the Author

David Kelly - With twenty years at the cutting edge of enterprise infrastructure, David A. Kelly is ebizQ's Community Manager for Optimizing Business/IT Management. This category includes IT governance, SOA governance,and compliance, risk management, ITIL, business service management,registries and more.

As Community Manager, David will blog and podcast to keep the ebizQ community fully informed on all the important news and breakthroughs relevant to enterprise governance. David will also be responsible for publishing press releases, taking briefings, and overseeing vendor submitted feature articles to run on ebizQ. In addition, each week, David will compile the week's most important news and views in a newsletter emailed out to ebizQ's ever-growing Governance community. David Kelly is ideally suited to be ebizQ's Governing the Infrastructure Community Manager as he has been involved with application development, project management, and product development for over twenty years. As a technology and business analyst, David has been researching, writing and speaking on governance-related topics for over a decade.

David is an expert in Web services, application development, and enterprise infrastructures. As the former Senior VP of Analyst Services at Hurwitz Group, he has extensive experience in translating the implications of new application development, deployment, and management technologies into practical recommendations for enterprise customers. He's written articles for Computerworld, Software Magazine, the New York Times, and other publications, and spoken at conferences such as Comdex, Software Development, and Internet World. With expertise ranging from application development to enterprise management to integration/B2B services to IP networking and VPNs, Kelly can help companies profit from the diversity of a changing technology landscape.

More by David A. Kelly

About ebizQ

ebizQ is the insider’s guide to next-generation business process management. We offer a growing collection of independent editorial articles on BPM trends, issues, challenges and solutions, all targeted to business and IT BPM professionals.

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