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Business Rules Management – the misunderstood partner to process


Jim Sinur on the topic of business rules management – BRM – and its role as the misunderstood partner for process.  Jim argues you cannot survive, much less thrive, if you do not know your business rules. In particular, you must pull out and make explicit the 30% ff your most volatile rules. These rules might come from employees, legacy applications, BAM or CEP tools, BPMS or more. Managing these rules enables you to be agile when you need to make changes and allows you to prepare rules for different scenarios. The minimum requirement is a different promotion/deployment approach for these rules.

1. Basic truths of BRM

Rules are a step by step guide to process execution – rules drive processes like booking air travel (rules control pricing, valid connections, exit row assignments, cancellation and luggage fees etc) or like obtaining a mortgage (underwriting, interest rate, closing requirements).

  • Rules are much easier to manage when they are managed (explicit)
  • Not all rules are business rules
    Some are technical or UI related, for instance and are technical. Of course some rules are in the middle like event correlation rules.
  • BRM is more than technology
    Though it works better with some, especially with a repository for rule management that supports rule metadata like name, purpose, usage etc. You need a process for defining, categorizing, governing and deploying rules as well as technology to support this.
  • Rules are aggregated
    Into rule sets and decisions but they are also “tagged” with one or more contexts like tax rules or rules that will matter in an economic downturn or similar. Traceability to policies and scenarios are also critical.
  • Business rules are used in explicit decision points, as constraints, as guidance and more
    And knowing which it is makes a difference to how you manage it.
  • In the context of BPM, BRM is still immature
    The dedicated use of BREs (Business Rule Engines) is further along, the use of rules in the context of BPM is not established yet
  • This immaturity hides the potential value
    Although BRMS and its use in BPM is 2-5 years from maturity its value, especially combined with event processing, is very high.

2. How does business rules technology work and what do I need

Not all business rules technology is alike. Three common types:

  • BPMS. Some BPMS contain a rule engine and these are typically good for branching, routing and simple event rules
  • Inferencing BRE. Traditional rules engine that fires rules based on terms and facts either forward or backward chaining (goal seeking).
  • Event-based BRE. Strength in correlating and acting on events, good integration with event listeners.

The market for this technology is fragmented and wide. Traditionally focused in application development, packaged applications, application integration and specialty apps like fraud or claims processing. Emerging sectors include Complex Event Processing (CEP), BPM, Intelligent Decision Management (what I call Decision Management) and governance/compliance.

Business rules representation and the improvements in this are a big part of what has made business rules technology improve recently. These range from very technical through usable structures like decision trees and decision tables, template-guided language structures through semi-freeform natural language.

A state of the art BRMS has

  • At least one BRE that it can use to execute rules
  • Rule repository to manage the rules, do impact analysis, completeness and correctness checks etc
  • Rule templates to let non-technical users manage rules
  • Rule management and administration
  • Monitoring and analysis tools to let you learn from how rules were fired and what happened
  • Rule modeling and simulation
  • A Rule IDE for technical work

3. How should BRM affect and interact with my BPM efforts

  1. Let your rules, decisions, drive your processes so simple processes use rules to manage complexity/variations
  2. Decide how much you need – simple routing, rules in a BPMS, a basic BRE or a full blown BRMS
  3. Take care with respect to overlapping roles and skills – LoB managers, System Architects and Business Process Analysts have to work together on rules and process definition.
  4. Combined a single competency center for rules and process
  5. Treat process flows and decision rules as tunable assets for agility. Rule modeling and simulation create flexibility while rapid rule modification can create adaptability (elements of Gartner’s Agility quotient)


Business Rules Management contributes to business survival and helps businesses thrive – it aids oversight and insight. So:

  • Learn about Business Rules Management
  • Focus on the business rules that are relevant and volatile
  • Watch for technology market changes
  • Join the BPM and BRM skills together in a the competency center
  • Cherish rules, flows and processes as meta-driven assets

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