business rules engine (BRE)

A business rules engine (BRE) is a software component that allows non-programmers to add or change business logic in a business process management (BPM) system. A business rule is a statement that describes a business policy or procedure. Business logic describes the sequence of operations that is associated with data in a database to carry out the rule.

A business rules engine works by separating execution code for business rules from the rest of the business process management system. This allows the end user to change business rules without having to ask a programmer for help. When a change is made, the engine will evaluate the change's effect on other rules in the system and flag the user if there is a conflict.

According to authors Alex Berson and Larry Dubov, a complete business rules engine will include the following:

  • Business Rule Repository - A database for storing the business rules as defined by the business users.
  • Business Rule Editor - An intuitive user interface that allows business users to define, design, document and edit business rules.
  • Reporting Component - An intuitive user interface that allows business users to query and report existing rules.
  • Rules Engine Execution Core - The actual programming code that enforces the rules.

Learn more:

"Master Data Management and Customer Data Integration for a Global Enterprise," by Alex Berson and Larry Dubov, has a chapter called Overview of Business Rules Engines.

This was last updated in March 2010

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If you are interested in an open source rule engine, look at n-cube. This rule engine provides support for hyper-dimensional (unlimited) decision tables, decision trees, and linear rules execution. The decision tables and trees look like spreadsheets, and the rule logic is written in Groovy, with all inputs passed in as a Map. Definitely worth a look.
I find it confusing to connect BRE and BPM. Both systems can work together (and often do), but it's critical to distinguish their functions. Business rules engines (such as focus on when-then statements. Business process management systems concentrate on workflows and procedures. You can change the business logic, for example, the pricing tariff, without modifying the sequence order.