Business Rules

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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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Processes are the user interface to a solution – as such they are highly visible and a lot of project effort is focussed on process modelling. In fact, there is a perception in some quarters that Business Analysts just draw process models and this is all they do. However, process models (the drawings of processes) are only one facet of the specification of a process.

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Have you ever thought the following thought while describing business processes? A decent percentage of the work business analysts (BAs) do is repetitive in nature. Business rules define the various subject matters, different businesses, or just differences in doing business. Just recently, I have again used a use case approach to a business process reengineering (BPR) problem. The aim was restructuring along natural business module borders, so that different applications (new and existing ones) can handle the business process more efficiently, more secure and within the right stakeholder's responsibilities. As almost always, documentation of the business processes had undergone aging as well.

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Business analysts are at the sharp end of one of the great challenges of information technology – how to build the systems organizations need. At the same time, organizations are demanding more sophisticated systems – the “dumb” systems of yesteryear are no longer enough.

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The problem of business-IT alignment is of widespread economic concern.

As one way of addressing the problem, this paper describes an online system that functions as a kind of Wiki -- one that supports the collaborative writing and running of business and scientific applications, as rules in open vocabulary, executable English, using a browser.

Since the rules are in English, they are indexed by Google and other search engines. This is useful when looking for rules for a task that one has in mind.
The design of the system integrates the semantics of data, with a semantics of an inference method, and also with the meanings of English sentences. As such, the system has functionality that may be useful for the Rules, Logic, Proof and Trust requirements of the Semantic Web.

The system accepts rules, and small numbers of facts, typed or copy-pasted directly into a browser. One can then run the rules, again using a browser. For larger amounts of data, the system uses information in the rules to automatically generate and run SQL over networked databases. From a few highly declarative rules, the system typically generates SQL that would be too complicated to write reliably by hand. However, the system can explain its results in step-by-step hypertexted English, at the business or scientific level.

As befits a Wiki, shared use of the system is free.

Author: Adrian Walker

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