I got an update from the folks at Innovations Software while I was attending this year’s Building Business Capability conference. This week sees the release of Visual Rules 5.0 and it has some great new features. I last wrote about release 4.5 last year.
The big news with this release is web-based authoring of business rules. The new Web Modeler allows both flow rules, the core construct for rules and decisions in Visual Rules, and Decision Tables to be build in a web client. Both editors are fully functional and have a nice modern look and feel. Edit and access control are fully integrated as you would expect and audit logs are kept on every change. This editor allows non-technical users to edit rules in a less “technical” environment by using a web metaphor rather than a fully fledged design tool. It also allows for selective exposure of these rules, based on user privileges, so that you can allow non-technical users to maintain some rules while others remain under the control of developers. While it is true that web-based rule editing is common in competitive BRMS products, the Visual Rules 5.0 has done a nice job of the implementation and taken advantage of recent developments in thin client application design to produce a nice environment.
Part of what makes the web client possible is improvement to the rule repository and team server components. The web based console for managing rules has been extended and improved with support for testing and validation, approval workflow (that can be based on whether the tests passed or failed), a dashboard to show how testing is trending and more. This web based environment means that builds, testing and deployment can be managed and automated using the server. Taken with the web-based editing, the new release dramatically improves support for collaborative and distributed development.
The new release also provides the underpinnings that will allow later versions to support better Decision Service design. The infrastructure for a simple state machine has been added (available on request to v5 users). As most users of a BRMS discover, declarative collections of rules (decision tables, rule sets etc) are rarely enough to model a complete BUSINESS decision. A sequence of steps – each a declarative package of rules – must be put together and packaged up into a service component. Some products use a ruleflow for this but the Visual Rules product has a state machine construct instead. This allows rules developers to to the state management they need without letting rules developers think they can write processes in the tool and is a nice balance between rules and process.
There are a number of under-the-covers changes to the product too that both enable these features and make for some other neat capabilities. One of these is that Visual Rules can import an existing service interface to which the rules can then conform. This is a nice feature as it lets a rules developer build a service to a known interface – contract first – ensuring that the rules-based decision service will conform to an interface expected by other components. Visual Rules 5.0 also continues to support the generation of self-contained components that can be distributed to autonomous devices across a heterogeneous network of things. This kind of massively distributed system is a focus for Innovations Software’s parent company, Bosch, and the contract-first approach is how these embedded systems work.
One final nice feature is a visualizer for rule dependencies. This allows you to see how rules, data, states etc are related and navigate through your rule base to understand how it all hangs together.
You can find more about the release on the Innovations website