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Future trends in business rules (with a little help from my friends)


I was presenting this week to a company that asked what trends I saw in business rules. I had my ow thoughts but I also reached out to some other experience business rules implementers. Here’s what we came up with:

  • A broader context for business rules
    • Business rules are increasingly adopted as part of a broader effort involving business process management (BPM), service oriented architecture (SOA), complex event processing (CEP) and even Master Data Management (MDM).  Where there used to be a fair number of rules projects that were standalone rules efforts, now we see rules being adopted alongside these other technologies.
    • Of course this is particularly true with respect to BPM where there is an increasingly tight relationship. Indeed the adopt of business rules is seen as necessary for BPM success more and more with the Decision Service pattern having become well established to simplify complex processes.
    • Finally the role of business rules as a platform for analytics, as a way to take more advantage of the data you have, is growing fast.
  • Strategy not just implementation
    • Business rules adopters are no longer focused just on implementing a business rule management system or BRMS. Increasingly they focus on developing a true decisioning strategy. Taken with the previous point and the recent IDC Decision Management market sizing, this is a critical trend. Business rules and BRMS are a great tool in your toolbox but they support a coherent and effective decisioning strategy and that is they key long-term value.
    • Of course the long term focus of some business rules implementations remains an issue. It is easy to get one successful project – for underwriting say – and fail to learn from it for future projects – such as claims processing.  A focus on decisions and a recognition that decisions are the common element of different systems that can benefit from business rules is important.
    • We also see improving methods in governance and an increasing use of agile methods to develop business rules.
  • Business IT collaboration
    • The power of business rules and BRMS to improve business/IT collaboration is something I focus on a lot with my clients and this is a trend we see across the board. Companies adopting business rules are moving away from developers writing rules (though most start here) and towards business empowerment – setting up their business users to manage their own business rules. As I noted before this reflects innovation in methods, frameworks and training though there is still much to do.
    • From a methodology perspective it is important that there is a growing recognition that Decisions and Processes are peers, that business rules are not requirements and that analytics should be considered early and often when automating decisions.
  • We see more widespread adoption and more open source
    • Traditionally business rules have been sold to large enterprise IT departments. While this continues, these departments increasingly understand rules and want to apply them more broadly. This is reflected in more, smaller projects as well as the original “large” driver projects.
    • Consequences of this are that there is increased demand for open source solutions, like Drools, and for more flexible pricing options. Lots of the open source projects I work with are going on in companies that also have commercial BRMS “standards”. These companies have found that the pricing model for their commercial product is such that they can only justify it for big rules projects – lots of rules, rules that change a lot, rules that are complex etc. But they want to have the advantage of a BRMS even on a small project so they turn to open source. Of course there are also large projects using open source too but the big trend is this one of broader adoption leading to lots of open source projects.
    • There is  also growing interest in startups and mid sized companies. I have several software and SaaS clients using or considering business rules and the degree to which smaller companies are adopting rules is increasingly impressive.
  • Finally, technology is evolving too
    • BRMS functionality continues to improve with a focus on performance (though all the major players already perform well enough to support massive systems – and I have spoken to real customers for virtually all of them to know this – as well as on business user tools. Rule testing and scenario comparison and the ability to do impact analysis are increasingly a focus and the  capability of BRMS products to validate and verify rules is much improved over recent years. Some support for standards is also likely in the next few years – many BRMS already consume PMML for predictive model integration and support for standards like PRR (Production Rule Representation), RIF (Rule Interchange Format) and even SBVR (Semantics Business Vocabulary and Rules) is coming.
    • DaaS – Decisions as a Service – is another area of interest. Not only are more BRMS vendors and others supporting cloud-based deployment of Decision Services, they are also allowing companies to expose critical decision services to partners, supply chains and more. Instead of trying to share data and relying on these partners to use that data effectively, companies with complex business webs are exposing Decision Services using a DaaS approach so that those partners can get answers – decisions – from the cloud.

Thanks to Hafedh Mili, Eric Charpentier (who blogs occasionally here and tweets as @echarpentier), Claye Greene (Technology Blue), Jerome Boyer (who blogs occasionally here) and Krzysztof Karski. Any errors and omissions are my own.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Mark Eastwood February 2, 2011, 3:49 pm

    I think this point might get a little lost to some. You say “Business rules and BRMS are a great tool in your toolbox but they support a coherent and effective decisioning strategy and that is the key long-term value.”

    I fear that many organizations don’t have effective decision strategies automated or not. Borrowing from another interesting read about How to measure anything, I agree with Douglas Hubbard that many organizations don’t even try to measure. If they don’t measure they can’t define a systematic way to make a decision. Harrah’s the casino group understands customer value and therefore they define strategies for how measure it, predict it and how to apply those predictions to new clients as well. The other day Morton’s was out of the steak I wanted to order so, having a decision strategy made me an excellent counter-offer on the spot.

    The other statement that caught my eye today was “Decisions and Processes are peers, that business rules are not requirements and that analytics should be considered early and often when automating decisions.” Following from above, if an organization has a decisioning strategy they are starting to realize that these strategies are corporate assets. They start treating decisions as valuable and measuring their impact. The BPM community has at least indirectly proposed that process is more important than the individual steps in a process. Here I think your arguing that decisions (made at some step in a process flow) are equally important. I argue that measuring benefits is different but critical to success. A well-built process flow that supports poor (uninformed) decisions is perhaps worse than poor process that delivers the informed, analytically supported decision.


    • James Taylor February 3, 2011, 7:08 pm

      We are on the same path as the process folks I think – it took time to realize that processes could and should be managed and measured. Decisions are next

  • Jaime Fitzgerald February 5, 2011, 4:38 am

    A great post! A lot of pearls here — looking forward to posting a more in-depth response / reflection. Thank you for being so thoughtful, even if that means it takes a little while to ruminate/reflect on your insights.
    Cheers and will post here again soon.