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Separation of concerns and the Service-Oriented Business Process

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Nicklas Holmberg from the Lund School of Economics and Management in Sweden presented on the importance of separation of concerns in business process design. His work has been in healthcare, particularly around a system for vaccination management, and is focused on business rules and a business rules-centric approach to designing services and processes.

Nicklas began by introducing SOA and business rules as approaches. He particularly emphasized that it is important to treat business rules as atomic, manageable, first class objects managed by business people. Business rules, he reminded us, define WHAT should be done but not how, where or by whom. Business processes, of course, define how to do things – a series of logically staged activities that deliver a result.

His research focused on three things:

  • Did a business rules approach provide better business user participation
    He found that well formed verbose business rules could be easily understood by business people who could immediately spot and correct problems
  • Is a more business friendly object model required
    He found that there was value in having a more business-oriented, rather than technical object-oriented, model to write rules against
  • Did the approach support an SOA mindset
    He found, as you would expect, that a decision making service (what I call a decision service) is completely consistent with an SOA approach

It was clear from his presentation that he explicitly knew what decisions were involved in his system – “what vaccinations is this child supposed to have received in their home country?” or “what are the recommended additional vaccines for this child as they enter Sweden” – but I would go further. I would add decisions as a third “first class object”.

I would focus on the decision services themselves first and then support them with a business rules management system rather than regarding the decision service as the intersection of business rules and business processes. For instance, when he talked about the importance of modeling processes and rules in parallel because they influence each other, I would argue that it is the decision being made that is relevant in each case and provides the connective tissue. He implied this but I would have been more explicit.

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