Business Rules

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There is a great deal of confusion about the role of the Business Rule Management System (BRMS). Given the prominent role of the words “business” and “management”, one would be forgiven for believing that a tool thus named would manage the business aspects of the rules of the business. But to the contrary, across the entire class of these tools there is little business management of business rules possible. For the most part, and almost without exception, these tools are provided by the vendor to ensure the most efficient execution of “business rules”, rather than the efficient management by the business of them.

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Today’s business systems aren’t agile – even when agile software methods are used to develop them. Companies need business agility, and in most cases we simply aren’t delivering it. 

Here’s an example from recent experience. I visited a very large health care organization and had conversations there with a variety of people.

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Until business analysts really begin to understand the difference between rules of the business (business rules), and choices about system design, we’ll keep falling to the same requirements and legacy traps as always. In my previous column I looked closely at the meaning of business rule. Now let’s probe the two fundamental categories of business rules: behavioral and definitional.

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For business analysts, understanding decision logic from the perspective of business people is key. For that you need business rules. But when can a rule be considered a business rule, and when not? This article presents five pragmatic tests for knowing when you have identified a true business rule.

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Last time, we proposed that, with business rules, we surely can. The traditional way we manage business rules is time-consuming. It focuses on details rather than the bigger picture. The details are the business rules themselves - expressed, analyzed, approved, and stored in a safe place. But, viewed as details, they lose momentum, postponed until design or implementation. Perhaps we deliver too much too early. But, we can do it differently by delivering less up front and evolving it into something more important.

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A businesses rules management system (BRMS) can help a business in almost any industry realize two goals: make faster decisions with an automated process; and make better decisions for more profitable results. Unfortunately, many businesses assume that the road to decision management success ends simply with selection of the right BRMS. But that’s just one step—one that should be accompanied by 11 others.

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Does the business perceive business rules as a true organizational asset? Are they visible, valuable, and universally accepted as data is? Above all, does business rule management attract and sustain enterprise-wide high-level management attention?

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The goal of rulebook management is to give business workers and business analysts the ability to access and manage decision logic directly. The focus is on the kinds of challenges these business workers and analysts face on a day-in and day-out basis.

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Every project in which we have implemented the Decision Model has seemed to bring further proof that – in the world of business logic or business rules, it seems to create a frictionless environment. We see “Ah ha!” moments time and again when people realize the simplicity to which their complex logic or business rules may be reduced by applying the model.

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In a previous column, we looked at how Decision Models improved an actual project. Below, we explore why the Decision Model is the next logical (and simple) advance in process modeling and business rules. We do so by addressing five questions. How does the Decision Model improve a business process model? Where did the business rules go? Why did the business process model become simpler? How does the Decision Model transform a business? Finally, why should business analysts upgrade from a traditional business rules approach to Decision Modeling?

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Business rules should be externalized from processes and established as a separate resource. Rule Independence permits direct management of the business rules, so they can evolve at their own natural pace rather than that of the software release cycle. Other benefits include better process models, and much closer tie-in to the business side (a.k.a. business alignment). Business rules put your company on the road to true agility.

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Whether you’ve never heard of business rules or you are a business rules guru, you need to understand that business rules need to be a first-class citizen of the requirements world. In this interview, Ronald G. Ross, recognized as the “father of business rules,” shares his wisdom on business rules and what every business analyst needs to know about decisioning and business rules.
 

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Last month's column introduced a missing model for business analysts. The Decision Model is a normalized rigorous model for business logic like the Relational Model is for data. "Business logic is simply a set of business rules represented as atomic elements of conditions leading to conclusions. As such, business logic represents business thinking about the way important business decisions are made."

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As a business analyst, you are a problem solver. You are skilled at tailoring an approach to a business situation with different kinds of models.  However, until now, you are missing one. Worthy of its own model, there is an important dimension left behind.  It lies buried, capable of wreaking havoc.

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With current economic conditions, companies are striving to do more with fewer resources, both human and material. So it should be no surprise that the fusion of business processes and practices is both relevant and necessary. Over the past two decades business methodologies and corporate programs have established track records that demonstrate performance and quality improvements within their organizations.

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