I was fortunate enough to get a preview of some new research from John Rymer of Forrester this week – Trends: Business Rules Platforms 2008. As usual John has written an interesting piece and it is well worth reading and buying. Setting the need for more dynamic applications and the need to automate more complex decisions as the context, he discusses three main themes. I will touch on each of them but I would add that I also regard the pressure to “operationalize” BI as driving interest in business rules for decision management. Existing BI technologies simply don’t operationalize well as they are fundamentally aimed at people, not systems. Business rules provide a great platform for automating decisions and for injecting analytic insight either by mining data for rules or by embedding predictive analytic models.
The first theme John discusses is that of “authoring tools and processes that allow businesspeople to directly create and maintain business rules”. While there is some interesting work in allowing business users, or business analysts to create their own rules unassisted by IT, the more interesting area (IMHO) is in better tools for collaboration between business and IT so that, together, they can ensure that decisions are being made with the right rules. Everything from better testing tools and test management to simulation, from versioning to templates, and from syntax to visual metaphors is improving in this area. Those organizations ready and willing to see a new era of collaboration between the business and IT can get there with the current generation of business rules management systems. For more on this, see this wiki entry on business user rule maintenance.
John also talks about the platform vendors increasing adoption of rules, particularly with SAP’s purchase of YASU (about which I blogged on the Fair Isaac blog here). John focuses somewhat on the pressure this puts on rule vendors to add pre-built rules. I remain convinced that the greater inclusion of business rules in both enterprise applications and business process management systems is good for the business rules market. Business rules are a great way to do many things, including manage processes and customize applications. The increased use of rules to do these things will not remove the need for organizations to truly manage their operational decisions and for this, I think, they will still look to the major independent vendors. In part this comes down to enterprise-class functionality but mostly it comes down to the multi-platform reality of most companies. If a decision is to be managed independently and then delivered consistently to applications and processes managed in multiple vendors’ systems, then using one of those vendors will not work. Something independent is called for (think about the number of SAP customers using an Oracle database backbone, for instance).
Third John talks about “a new wave of market consolidation” and this is hard to dispute. Again I think this is a good sign as more mature markets tend to consolidate and the perception that the rules market is very fragmented has not helped.
I continue to believe that decision management, using business rules and analytics, is a powerful approach and that the independent business rules platforms remain the best initial building block for this. More rules in more places, and stronger vendors will only help. I plan to write a more extensive piece about the trends I see (and hope to see) in January.