Why Agile Business Rules Solutions Matter

In previous columns Iíve talked about the intersection of business rules and business process management products. As organizations move further into the integration and automation of their business processes it often becomes increasing important to automate not just the process steps, but the management of the rules that contribute (and also drive) the process.

For some companies and organizations, however, there continues to be some uncertainty about what business rules really areóare they part of the business process management solution, a separate product, or something else? Letís answer the question from the bottom up---business rules are most certainly part of a business process management solution, just as theyíre part of a custom-developed solution and almost every other software product. Whether you explicitly use a business rules management system or business rules software, organizations (or developers) are implicitly defining business rules in software solutions, packaged applications, and even manual business processes all the time.

Of course, we need to take the next step to get to the finer distinction. Process oriented integration solutions (including business process management products) typically allow organizations ways to define decision nodes to route workóin effect, rules that define the flow of a business process, or business rules. However, thereís more here than meets the eye. For many organizations and in many scenarios, this type of solution will work relatively wellóan organization will be able to automate their process, and define business rules as part of the process definition and be done with it.

However, in other circumstances, itís important to realize that thereís more to business rules than decision nodes in a process integration. As weíve seen (and talked about), many business process management companies have realized there are situations where organizations (typically larger organizations or more complex processes, but not always) want to (or need to) be able to capture and manage (managing is frequently a critical part of this issue) their business rules for a variety of reasons. Sometimes itís to leverage them across applications, sometimes itís to be able to centralize them for more rapid modification or adaptation, and sometimes itís FOR OTHER REASONS. Business rules management systems, from companies like ILOG, Corticon, Pegasystems, Fair Issac or others can all help organizations capture, define, create, use and manage business rules effectively across their IT solutions.

Which brings me to the next point. Organizations that are considering evaluating business rules systems should also consider the underlying architecture for each potential solution. For example, some of the business rules systems have built sophisticated integrated development environments and work areas to expose and manage the business rules in ways that are remarkably powerful. Yet, the resulting rules are generated/translated into a lower level language (perhaps something like Java). Of course, this isnít a problem if all the modifications and changes needed to the solution can be made at the IDE-level or through approved coding modifications achieve through the IDE, but if an organization actually needs fine-grained control over the resulting code and has to drop into code and code modification to achieve it, the benefits of the business rules solution are potentially compromised.

In effect, an organization will end up with a code-generation solution for business rules management where changes made to the generated business rules technology components do not flow back into the business rules systemóleaving organizations with a disconnect between the business that are put into production and the business rules system used to generate them. The result is much like what many companies experienced ten or more years ago when they tried to use computer aided software engineering (CASE) products, which when used in a straightforward manner, with no modifications worked wonderfully, but when the resulting code was modified or additions were made after the modeling steps, the customer with stuck with generate code that had to be managed by hand forever after.

Instead of getting caught in this trap again with business rules, organizations should evaluate their specific implementation needs and consider whether they need a business rules product that produces executable code instead of an intermediate code, or at least understand the implications of working (or modifying) code generated by the business rules management system. Examine the power of the modeling environment to understand if it can capture the granularity you need and the complexity required. Explore whether or not your developers will be required to modify or create anything that canít easily be created within a business rule solutionís modeling environment. In some cases, organizations are forced to solve the more complex rules requirements or sophisticated problems by addressing it with modifications in a lower-level language, resulting in a potentially significant loss of value in the overall business rules system and loss of agility.

For most organizations, business rules are simply part (but a growing part) of an overall solution. I strongly recommend organizations considering business rules systems to look closely at their requirements, explore exactly how they will define and modify the business rules they need to create and manage (especially the in the more complex or sophisticated situations) and analyze what a specific business rules solution will or can do for them.

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

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