Business Rules

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You are experiencing success with decision models even without the assistance of decision modeling software. Imagine the possibilities with proper software support!

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Can the same business rule be enforced differently in different contexts? The answer – an important one for re-use of business rules – is yes. This article explains. It also outlines what business analysts need to know to specify contexts of enforcement for a business rule effectively.

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A software tool for The Decision Model supports the entire life cycle of Decision Management. This includes the authoring, analysis, testing and deployment of entire decision models. Whether managed by the business – as some people consider ideal – or managed by IT or business analysts on behalf of the business – as others consider necessary – business decisions need not only a repository for storing decision models, but a range of functions to manage them effectively.

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Many IT professionals currently prefer the if-then form for expressing rules. Why? Put simply, it's closer to what they need for implementation, whether under a rule engine or a programming language. Consequently, they often resist expressions of rules from the business perspective as business people would naturally prefer them. But what effect does that have on the rules?

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As business analysts, we know that a business process model is a crucial technique for transforming a business and redesigning automated business systems. Yet, we struggle with the best way to represent the business rules that guide it. This is not a surprise, but disappointing. Ironically, business rules may be the most important dimension of an enterprise. They are the core of business decisions and actions, whether automated or not. How do we treat them today?

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Contrary to what you might think, the problem that rulebook management addresses is a relatively simple one. Its solution is relatively simple too. The reason people have a hard time seeing that is because the problem is so big. It’s all around us, everywhere we look – a whole host of trees blinding us to the forest.

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There is much written today about separating business rules from other dimensions of automated business systems. Without proper separation, they operate in enterprises without a great deal of thought given to them. Ironically, they may be the most important dimension because they represent important business thinking behind processes, use cases, for example. This article discusses various approaches for dealing with business rules and use cases.
 

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Decision tables have long been a successful technique for representing structured logic. Being visual, they circumvent the need for unnatural formal language or grammar. We use them not only to communicate that logic, but also to automate it. They are especially useful for validating the logic’s completeness and consistency.  Yet, this article advocates that this is not enough.
 

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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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