Dirty Little Secret of Business Rules?

James Taylor is out again revealing secrets. Here is the latest dirty laundry.

Business users don’t want to “maintain rules” any more than they want to “write code”

What they want to do is run their business better……

…..They can’t and don’t want to use the same technology IT does but they can and should be brought into the process. To deliver this requires thought and effort but it will pay off in increased agility, decreased costs and improved precision in decision-making.

I agree with James’ prescriptions on what IT needs to do to make it easier for business users to define business rules that ‘run the business’. The Business Rules Engine interface needs to be intuitive and  familiar;  presented in a business metrics context; allow ‘what-if’ scenario building; and provide audit and governance ‘under the covers’.

The underlying assumption here is that business users do have a reasonably well-defined and agreed-upon decision-making criteria. So when ‘business rules’ need to be built into the ‘business logic’ of a system, the IT team should be able to pick up the binder listing all the rules and start implementing the system. In an Orwellian parallel universe maybe. Not in the real world.

Too frequently the business needs to think through the business processes, objectives, decisions and rules first before any system can be implemented. These rules are again subject to change depending on business direction and market conditions. So IT is increasingly abstracting the business-rules-engine component out of the underlying implementation.

IT can develop and procure Web Services that enable individual business processes – and provide ‘switches’ to configure the process and its interaction with other processes. The Business Rules Engine that brings the full value chain together is then the ultimate responsibility for business domain experts within the business.

No matter how dirty, techie, complex or ridiculous the Business Rules Engine is, the business needs to know where the switches are and how to drive. Can the business visualize a Ferrari dashboard or is a Model-T ‘dashboard’ sufficient?

4 comments for “Dirty Little Secret of Business Rules?

  1. Lisa Sands
    January 5, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Interesting concept and simply basic. Like driving a car…I don’t want to know how to build it. Now how can we reconcile ever-changing business climates, objectives and economic conditions with technologies that change as quickly as we can write business requirements? Is it a vicious cycle? Not if (as you say) we have the right “business domain experts” in place with the tools to guide IT in building this year’s Model T according to spec. Companies need to invest in these resources that think and plan, and not expect a manual to do the trick…

  2. January 5, 2009 at 8:18 pm

    Thanks for the shout out. Now you are on to another of my favorite topics – the need to replace “dashboards” with real cockpits. The difference? Knobs and buttons that change the behavior of your business. Without them a dashboard is just a set of dials and gauges. Interesting, but not enough to help people drive.

  3. January 6, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Great Article about the importance of business rules in an ever changing IT world. What would be interesting is, to see how can the business domain experts adapt to the ever increasing demand and the constant change in technology……It is important for companies to invest in these resources but the question is do the companies realize it? —

  4. Gagan
    January 6, 2009 at 10:20 pm

    Lisa, the ideal business rules engine should not rely on underlying technology. It should not require business users to know technology implementation details – only how to use it. Sounds like your perfect world…
    James – great point re the cockpit. The business rules engine is intended to have all the knobs and levers for the business user to influence and direct the system. You change the rules ‘on the fly’ based on what the dials are telling you. Repeat.
    Madhu – you bring out the bigger dilemma facing businesses. They hired IT to design, build and operate the system – while business was supposed to be out there ‘bringing in the money’. Before anyone fully realized it, the business became the system and the system became the business. Now, we need tech-savvy business people and business-savvy tech people…both in short supply. Did you say “investment”? It certainly is..in more ways than one.

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