We’ve spent the past few columns discussing the need for business rules when undertaking a strategic business process management (BPM) solution. In general, BPM solutions tend to focus on such areas as capturing workflows, routing transactions (i.e. work) from one step to the next, creating interfaces for people to interact with those transactions, integrating with back-end systems, and monitoring and reporting on business processes. BPM systems excel in integrating and moving work through a business process, but not necessarily in managing the actual decisions that occur at the individual steps. That’s where the idea of business rules comes in, and where there’s a place for business rules capabilities—either as part of the BPM solution, or as an add-on.
In the previous columns we talked about how business rules capabilities in a BPM solution can help organize and manage important business logic and decision points within the process. And going a step further, having a centralized and managed way to consolidate the business logic linked to a business process, is an excellent application for business rules.
For example, consider a new policy application process for an insurance company. An application for insurance is filed, gets entered into a business process via an agent, and starts moving through a predefined workflow/business process. BPM systems are great at doing that kind of work. But when something about the claim kicks it out of the automated flow—say it needs to be re-priced, or there needs to be a decision about what jurisdiction it’s in—into the hands of a insurance processor sitting at a desk, it’s a human who’s going to make the eventual decision on what happens next. One of the keys then, is how to enable that person to make the appropriate decision, or enable the process to make the decision for the person.
While all companies require some level of human involvement in their processes, it’s becoming more and more important to automate that assistance wherever possible. Enabling people to make decisions is good, but it also opens organizations up to potential problems with quality, and inconsistencies. That’s where business rules capabilities come in.
Business rules can be used to automate manual decision-making tasks, or simply to help people make faster, better decisions. For example, it is possible to define complex business rules that, given certain criteria, automatically trigger the sale of a stock. Alternatively, it’s possible to define similar rules that, instead of automating a sale, alert a broker to the event, suggesting that the stock be sold. In both cases, the rules are essentially the same - the difference is in the enforcement level. It’s often helpful to start using business rules in a guidance mode. Once you achieve comfort around the quality of the rules, it’s natural to evolve into a fully automated mode. In both cases, business rules provide consistency of behavior to help support ongoing process improvement.