Talking with SAP today I made the comment that the best place to use business rules was often in stable, core business processes because those processes don’t change, only the decision rules within them. This clearly struck a chord with @GregChase and it made me think I should write a slightly longer version of what I meant before I retweeted it (I’m @jamet123 for those not yet following me on twitter).
It seems to me that business processes can be divided into those at the edge of a business and those at the core. I realize this is grossly simplistic and only one of the many ways to divide processes but bear with me. Processes at the edge are less stable and evolve more rapidly. No-one is 100% sure what the process should be and so it gets changed a lot based on experience. Some of these edge processes never really stabilize at all. In these processes decisioning is going to be dynamic, hard to formalize and largely manual.
Core processes, however, are much more stable. Everyone knows the paths that work through the process, the activities involved are well defined. Changes to these processes are a big deal, disruptive to the company regardless of how they are implemented. In these processes what changes are the decisions and the business rules behind those decisions – what makes a customer eligible for this level in the loyalty program, what price is this policy for this customer, what’s the best retention offer to make. These decision changes can be mistaken for a process change if the decision has not been broken out but they are not process changes – the activities, their sequence and their purpose all remain the same. The decision-making behavior of a specific activity is what changes.
Most companies have both kinds of processes and most therefore will need to manage decisions as well as processes. If they focus initially on core processes, like underwriting in Insurance say, they will likely adopt rules and focus on decisions first. If they focus initially on edge processes, they are less likely to see the value of rules and decisions in the short term and will focus purely on process. But their core processes will require decisioning.