In previous columns I’ve 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 are—are they part of the business process management solution, a separate product, or something else? Let’s answer the question from the bottom up---business rules are most certainly part of a business process management solution, just as they’re 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 work—in effect, rules that define the flow of a business process, or business rules. However, there’s more here than meets the eye. For many organizations and in many scenarios, this type of solution will work relatively well—an 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, it’s important to realize that there’s more to business rules than decision nodes in a process integration. As we’ve 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 it’s to leverage them across applications, sometimes it’s to be able to centralize them for more rapid modification or adaptation, and sometimes it’s 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.