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Explaining Integration VI: Business rules management systems

In a previous article in this series, Peter Abrahams of IT-Director.com talked about macro and micro-flows. However some of these decision points hide a different level and type of decision process.


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Explaining Integration VI: Business rules management systems
In a previous article in this series I talked about 'Macro and Micro flows - what is the difference?' The flows I was thinking about at that level tended to be fairly simple, only a small number of decision points, and would change at a relatively slowly rate, similar to the rate of change occurring in an application.

However some of these decision points hide a different level and type of decision process. For example the decision might be 'loan request accepted', or 'housing benefit agreed'. In these case the decision at the flow level would be 'yes', 'no' or 'maybe', and the maybe would call a human workflow where an expert will look at the claim and make a decision based on rules that have not been codified into the automated system.

The complex decision process is the realm of another technology known as Business Rules Management and supported by Business Rules Engines. Business Rules differ from macro and flows in several ways. BRs tend to be defined as IF... THEN... Without an ...ELSE... clause, there tend to be a lot of them and there is no single order in which they should be processed. At least a proportion of the rules are likely to change on a regular basis, for example the rules for a loan may change for particular sales campaigns, or housing benefit rules may change based on new legislation or changes to the cut off points.

Just like flows it is important that business rules are transparent and available for creation, inspection and modification by non-IT management such as business managers, auditors and legislators.

Therefore Business Rules vendors need to provide easy to use development tools, providing a variety of ways of presenting the rules, visually, programmatically and increasingly in some form of decision table. They need to help developers ensure that the rules are complete and consistent. They need to enable changes to be made easily but in a controlled manner so that changes can be traced and audited. Adequate testing tools are required to ensure that the complex web of rules does actually work as intended. The rules engine needs to provide monitoring information so that use of the rules can be understood. All of this needs to be accomplished with a run time performance that is acceptable.

Legislation like Sarbanes-Oxley, Basel II and the Patriot Act and increased monitoring by organisation like the FSA and FDA will increase the importance of transparent rules in 2004. To support this Business Process Management vendors will need to provide extended business rules support. They will either do this by partnering with rules vendors such as ILog or FairIsaacs or will build the engine into their product like hyfinity.

Bloor Research expects a rash of announcements in this area in the next six months, some in the next few weeks. We will be reporting as they become official.


Copyright 2004. Originally published by IT-Director.com, reprinted with permission. IT-Director.com provides IT decision makers with free daily e-mails containing news analysis, member-only discussion forums, free research, technology spotlights and free on-line consultancy. To register for a free e-mail subscription, click here.

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