Published in TDAN.com April 2002
We, and others, have written articles and books, presented and spoken about business rules for years. Over the last year, business rules have started to move toward center stage, as their role in
enabling business adaptability, real customer relationship management, and success in a real time business environment has become apparent. In this article, we step back for a moment and review the
current trends, indicators and what the market place is saying about business rules and where it is likely to take us.
Consider the following:
- OMG – The Object Management Group (OMG, the non-profit consortium that stewards the evolution of XML, UML, and CORBA standards) has identified the inclusion of business rules in UML as a major
objective for UML’s next major evolution.
- BRF – The annual Business Rules Forum continues to grow in popularity, with increasing vendor presence, tool maturity and real life success stories. This year they are expanding to their first
international conference, in Europe.
- ODTUG – At last year’s Oracle Development Tools User Group (ODTUG) conference in San Diego, an entire day before the conference, and track through the conference itself, was devoted to
business rules. This is one of the major Oracle-related conferences each year. Attendees are largely in the trench Oracle developers. These professionals were and are clearly in tune with the need
for and value of business rules approach as a better way to build systems, and hungry for real world methods and tools that they can apply. A number of successes were presented.
- BTEG – Out of this session, the Business Rules Tools Evaluation Group (BTEG) was launched, spearheaded by Joe Hudicka and including a number of leading business rule practitioners, to establish
“a common framework develop a criteria-driven framework to standardize the way in which we articulate the features and functionality we mutually expect from business rule tools.” That
group is now actively moving forward on that mission.
- BRTI – An impressive consortium of tool vendors and business rule consulting groups (Business Rule Solutions, Corticon, Framework Software, HNC Software, Intercomp, Knowledge Partners, Ptech,
Rational), have come together to establish a common framework for the exchange of business rules. “The Business Rules Traceability Initiative” (>www.brti.org) stated objectives are to produce:
- A meta-model for basic business rules description and transfer
- A corresponding XML schema representation of the meta-model.
- A relational schema for mapping the meta-model to an underlying persistence mechanism
- Any Java/C++ software components or other artifacts required for effective use of these schemas
- A variety of reference implementations
- Integration between our commercial products and the reference implementations
- Knowledge Partners’ own “Business Rules Applied” (Wiley) book released in October 2001, has been nominated for Software Development Magazine’s prestigious
“JOLT” award for key, ground breaking publications in software development.
And how have the recognized industry think tanks weighed in on the question? Here’s a sampling:
This is from the Meta-Group:
“Effectively automating mission-critical transactions involves multiple layers (e.g., development, business rules, process, exception handling), and must extend beyond internal processes
and applications. While no one vendor currently addresses the entire continuum, we expect several will by 2002; but adoption rates will lag due to integration and lack of strategic vision.”
Nonetheless, they go on to say “….as organizations move to a straight-through processing model, the sheer volume of enterprise transactions and decisions about each transaction will
drive business-rule engines that can scale to these high volumes (vs. business-rules logic handled via the process layer).” (The Transaction Automation Continuum, Delta 1002, 19
October 2000, Andrew Warzecha)
According to the Gartner Group:
“Business agility will continue to drive the need for friendly BRE (business rule engine) changes in a real-time fashion, increasing the use of flexible rule technology from 20 percent
organizational penetration to nearly 80 percent through 2007. (0.7 probability)” (The 2002 Business Rule Engine Market Magic Quadrant, 5 February, 2002, Jim Sinur)
And “The BRE revival has occurred because of 1) BRE’s increased ese of use for business users and 2) the need for more immediate maintenance of crucial business rules. As enterprises move
closer to a “zero time to market” response, expectations and evolving scenarios imply more rule volatility. This need will drive the expansion of the BRE market through 2005.” (“The
Platform for Agile Integrated Applications: Still Evolving”)
By all indications the incorporation of a business rules approach and a business rules architectural component are becoming mainstream. Indeed, in our own consultancy, it the rule, rather than the
exception, that clients are at least in some stage of evaluating and/or incorporating business rules into their system development life cycle and their architecture. All our clients fall somewhere
on this continuum.
Behind the Scenes
But there is another perspective on this. In some regards, it is happening “behind the scenes.” Based on some informal polling at the last Business Rules Forum, every business rule
engine vendor I spoke to was targeting the development of vertical market solutions that speak to underlying business needs, albeit through innovative and agile business rule based technology. This
is as compared with selling business rule technology itself into the IT department as a preferred way to develop in general. Based at least in part on recent IT downturns, these vendors have seen
the need to sell solutions, not the virtues of business rules in isolation.
For example, Gartner states that “We see this sector eventually partnering with vertical business sectors and enterprise application integration (EAI) vendors. Eighty percent of all
integration software will include a business-friendly rules capability, directly or indirectly, by 2006 (0.7 probability).” (“The Platform for Agile Integrated Applications: Still
This may not be an entirely bad thing. Getting hung with the “silver bullet” label can be a real albatross around the neck. What’s interesting in this case is that there appears
to be a strong consensus on all sides, including both the data and OO “camps”, software developers and the business community that business rules represent a key missing – or heretofore
not formally well – addressed – piece of the puzzle, and are simply going about incorporating it. A good bit of work remains in terms of developing semantic standards and frameworks for
business rule exchange and reusability, and getting rule components inserted seamlessly as common software development practice, but it’s clear that this quiet revolution is already well
underway, and rapidly gaining momentum as the connection with business survivability in the e-age is become apparent to all players.
But what does this mean for data management professionals? Data management got a lift with the advent of relational databases and the accepted need to manage data separate from process. In our
experience, interest in rule base approaches is being driven from the business and application development side of the house, in both point solutions to streamline key, business rule rich
processes, and in the implementation of enterprise application integration (EAI) frameworks that incorporate rules associated with managing transaction workflow across multiple components.
In both cases, whether welcomed or not, the question of business rule management arises. Seeing the immediate analogy to data, any data management professional will readily attest that, in the
absence of some framework for standardizing, communicating and managing the externalized (our “outboard” as Gartner refers to them) business rules, the benefits realized will be
“sub-optimum” to use a common industry euphemism.
Gartner weighs in on this as well (same reference as above), “In 2002, enterprises that are new to the concept of rules should at minimum, start pilots with the new generation of rule technologies
in a volatile area of their business. Early adopters should establish a rule management strategy before rules spread through too many discrete functional systems.” (“The Platform for
Agile Integrated Applications: Still Evolving”)
The opportunity exists for data management professionals to take the lead in assisting organizations define how business rule deliverables and processes can be incorporated into their
organization’s system development process, and taking responsibility for managing the externalized rules across applications. This requires being well versed in object oriented development
methodologies on the one hand, and with enterprise application integration technology on the other. This will be new territory for some data managers, but it represents a major opportunity to add
value by providing the needed skills to enable organizations to effectively adopt business rule technologies and approaches, and realize their benefits and, in the bargain, probably gain a greater
appreciation of the need for data management as well.