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Editor’s Note: In this Q & A, ebizQ’s Peter Schooff speaks with BPM specialist and consultant Kathy Long on how business rules relate to BPM. Long, who speaks and writes frequently on BPM, business rules and similar issues, currently works in the energy industry as the BPM lead for Onshore Upstream Americas. This interview, excerpted from a longer podcast, has been edited for length, clarity and editorial style.

ebizQ: Let’s kick it off by talking about how business rules relate to business processes.

Long:
This is another one of those areas where people have a tendency to separate the two topics because they have different disciplines around them and different experts that work in these areas. The key thing that people need to think about is that this is another one of those things that shouldn't be separated. You can't have process without rules and you can't use rules without processes. So they really are an integral part of each other.

People are only just now discovering how closely knit they really are because it’s the rules that guide how we do the processes--at least a large portion of how we do the processes--and so that's something that we need to take into account as we look at process. The reality is that most of the significant long-term improvements that organizations realize from looking at their processes and improving them come from changing, or modifying, or creating new rules to guide those processes.

ebizQ: So what would you say is the best way to achieve a collective view of rules and processes in an organization?

Long:
Because they've been considered as separate items or separate disciplines or separate projects, you need to go through a type of educational process, if you will, to help people understand that [rules and process] are part of each other.

Process has a tendency, obviously, to be more business focused. Rules--because the best way to implement rules is with technology--have a tendency to be technology focused. So we’ll often find in organizations that the technology group is driving a lot of, believe it or not, the business rules efforts. And then hopefully in organizations that understand process, we have the business people looking at process.

So the first thing we have to do is get those two groups together and have those conversations around the idea that rules are an integral part of process.

ebizQ: What are some of the biggest mistakes you've seen when companies make with business rules?

Long:
The first one is that people start a separate project called business rules. That's usually driven from the technology area because they're looking at business rules technologies, or they're looking at some sort of a workflow type of system that accesses or uses a business rule engine.

So they'll launch this project to look at business rules. As they do that, they naturally have to look at how the work happens and they'll realize that “we need to actually understand our processes to be able to do this business rules work.”

But, again, that tendency to view business rules as a technology project instead of a business-requirements-driven project has a tendency to create a lot of problems and issues in organizations.

What happens is those projects get delayed and they take [a long time] because business rules, if you just look at them in isolation, are at one of the lowest levels of detail in a process. That’s just an extraordinarily time-consuming effort to go through to look at all of that. Then what will happen is people will lose interest.

It used to be that when we talked about developing technical solutions to business problems, we looked at one- to two-year time frames. Now organizations expect to see those kinds of results in six weeks to three months. And honestly, if you are looking at business rules as project in and of itself, that's going to be a very long project. The issue then becomes: “What’s the value we get from it? What does this do for our business? How does it help us?”

Until they incorporate the process piece of it, organizations don't really see those big benefits. As with anything else, we need to be able to show that return on investment, and we need to be able to show it quickly. People want results fast; they want them yesterday. What often happens is organizations lose the opportunity to make a difference, and to make a lot of changes in their organizations, because they're looking at business rules as a separate topic.

ebizQ: Can you give an example of real-world business rules?

Long:
There are examples all around us in several organizations and industries. But some that we might encounter in our day-to-day lives might be auto insurance.

This was one of the first areas to really tackle business rules and see huge benefits from these rules. There are some car-insurance organizations that have become almost completely rules-driven and rules-based.

In one particular instance, that has allowed them to completely eliminate their back-office operations. [She cites an example of an insurance company responding to an automobile accident that involves vehicle damage but no injuries].

They’ll actually come to the scene of the accident. They’ll do an assessment of the damage on a tablet-type technology that is completely business rules-driven [associated with information from body shops, repair shops and other sources]. They've built all of that into a very intelligent system so that they can actually issue a check at the scene of the accident.

For more detail, please listen to the full-length podcast.

READER FEEDBACK: What has been your experience with business rules and BPM? ebizQ editors would like to hear. Contact Site Editor Anne Stuart at editor@ebizq.net.



About the Author

Peter Schooff is a former contributing editor for ebizQ, where he also managed the ebizQ Forum for several years. Previously, Peter managed the database operations for a major cigar company, served as writer/editor of an early Internet entertainment site and developed a computer accounting system for several retail stores. Peter can be reached at pschooff@techtarget.com.

More by Peter Schooff

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.

We cover BPM standards, governance, technology and continuous process improvement, as well as process discovery, modeling, simulation and optimization, among many other areas. We follow case management, decision management, business rules management, operational intelligence, complex event processing and other related topics. We closely track important trends such as the rise of social BPM, mobile BPM and BPM in the cloud. We also explore BPM’s use in functional areas, such as supply chain and customer management, and in key verticals, such as financial services, health care, insurance and government.

ebizQ's other BPM-oriented content includes podcasts, webcasts, webinars, white papers, a variety of expert blogs, a lively online forum and much more.

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