Leveraging Business Rules in a BPM World

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Barbara von Halle is the founder of Knowledge Partners, a company specializing in business rule services. Her most recent book, "Business Rules Applied" is the first book to contain a systematic approach for delivering business rules systems. It was a finalist in the 2002 Jolt Awards from Software Development Magazine.

According to von Halle, the business rules represent the intellectual decision-making aspect of your organization. They are the business policies, constraints, computations, and reasoning capability of your organization. Business people state the business rules in a business-oriented manner, then the IT staff translates the business rules into a technical representation that may become iron-clad in the business applications.

The risks of not using a business rules approach include:

Lost rules Incorrect rules Embarrassing inconsistent rules Purchased rules Meaningless rules Legally compromising rules Unknown rules Rules resistant to change Elusive, expensive rules

Von Halle said that the business rules approach has the following characteristics which spell out STEP.

Separate the rules: The business can find them and apply them consistently Trace the rules: Know where the rules come from, why they exist and where they are used. Externalize the rules: The business audience can understand the rules in their own language and can change them to fit business needs Position the rules for change: The business can evolve at its own pace in its own way.

The business rules approach uses the following to create the rules.

Business people use interviews and sessions aimed to specify rules for software systems and document the rules as deliverables Technical developers mine rules from existing software Technology architects purchase one or more rules engines\ Business and technical organizations work to enable business people to change and maintain the rules in these new systems with minimal technical intervention BRE vendors are adding more functionality to their products to support the above efforts

Von Halle showed KPI's Rule Maturity Model which goes from level 0 to level 5. Level 0 is chaos, whereas level 2 is structured with the rules being controlled by the business people. There are cultural symptoms for organizations at each of these levels. Von Halle said that Level 0 is like having no roads to drive on so there is no control. At Level 1 only the technical people can drive on the roads. At Level 2 business analysts can drive with the permission and a technical presence. She didn't cover Levels 3, 4, and 5. For now, a Level 2 is good enough.

The business rules need to be related to business processes. Von Halle said that a new breed of systems is emerging where business proce3ss and business rules are managed as separate resources but closely connected. Tasks in a BPM environment can become powered by the rules themselves. There are four main types:

Stand-alone BPM products Stand-alone BRE products Single vendors with an integrated BPM+BRE product Vendors partnered for BPM+BRE offering

The business side drives the rules with the business strategy, goals and process flow. The technical side has to turn the rules into executable models using a lot of conditions in order for the rules to work. A business rules repository needs to manage:

Business decisions Natural language rules Rule sources Rule roles Business glossaries Rule clauses/conditions Formal rules

Many problems still plague this whole process, including:

BPM/BRE products focus mostly on technical aspects and business people are still out of the loop. Often the rules are not reusable from one project to the next. Rules are not traceable to a business objective or initiative Business people do not recognize their rules even if the rules are implemented in a business rules engine No one is paying enough attention to the rules behind non-automated processes because technical people are not focused on these rules Organizations don't budget or invest in more guidance throughout the life-cycle of a BR project

The crucial lessons learned include:

Involve business people early and learn their objectives, then tie these to the BR approach Don’t ignore manual rules Don't lose the business in the rules. Don't assume that all automated rules will go into a BRE. Not all rules fit the rules engines Take time to plan for the business source rules repository and a proven rules management approach Don't consider BPM/BR a quick fix. It is a critical evolution for today with great benefits, but only if it is done properly.

Barbara von Halle recently spoke on this topic at BrainStorm’s Business Process Management Conference in New York. For more information on this conference, visit www.BPMConference.com

To hear the archived audio file of this presentation, visit:http://www.bpminstitute.org/presentations

Jon HuntressSpecial Events Correspondent

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