BRMS: Key Issues and Best Practices
 
 
 
 
 
 
A group of industry experts discusses key issues in Business Rules Management Software.

Below: Read the full transcript of this video roundtable.

This event took place Wednesday, May 20 at 10 AM PST.

The event was sponsored by Progress

Business Rules Management software (BRMS) offers essential competitive advantage by enabling businesses to create adaptive and reusable business rule flows. A top-flight BRMS solution is essential to staying current with ever-changing market conditions, complex regulations and customer demands. In industries ranging from healthcare to insurance to government, business managers and other professionals rely on BRMS to implement and manage a sophisticated decision grid with accuracy and speed. Many businesses look to their BRMS solution to help manage costs, not to mention provide the peace of mind of easily automated business logic. Yet selecting the best BRMS solution – and leveraging that product to its fullest – offers a variety of challenges. To provide guidance, four enterprise IT software experts will explore the key issues regarding BRMS. We’ll talk about current trends and best practices in BRMS, and we’ll look at ease of use vs. depth of functionality. We’ll also focus on the potential pitfalls associated with BRMS, with an eye toward mitigating these challenges. We hope you’ll join us for a wide-ranging and in-depth discussion.

Ankur Goyal, Principal Product Manager, Progress

Connie Moore, Sr. VP of Research, Digital Clarity Group

Dana Gardner, analyst, founder at Interarbor Solutions

Kenneth Hess, author, Systems Admin, HP

Graphic courtesy of Shutterstock.

TRANSCRIPT OF VIDEO ROUNDTABLE:

 

J Maguire:

Business rules management software: I would ask the four of you, if you’re going to advise this hypothetical company that’s looking for a business rules software product, what you advise them to look for, given there’s a couple of constituencies. There’s IT folks. There’s business folks. What’s important? Ankur, what’s your take?

And also, give us a little nutshell, what actually does a BRMS solution do for a company, and then, what should you do when you’re picking one out?

A Goyal:

Sure, James. So, business rules management systems are really expert systems designed to manage your rules and business logic. So, instead of keeping your logic in the form of application code in any software system, you’ve now extracted that logic and put it into a system that’s specifically designed for managing rules. So you’re building and modeling and testing your rules in a separate expert system while keeping the software solutions, just from an application standpoint, where you’re thinking about the user experience and different features, and not have to worry about the logic in that boat.

So that’s essentially what a rules management system is. And I think when companies are looking at BRMS systems and trying to figure out what are the things that we should be careful for, one of the things that we’re seeing customers do is just trying to understand why they’re looking at a BRMS system. There could be a variety of different reason why they’ve gone down that path. I think it’s really critical for them to understand why they’re doing so. One of them could be, for example, you’re operating in an environment where the rules are constantly changing. Right? So, for example, you’re in a heavy compliance or regulatory environment. For example, financial services or the insurance sector, so much so that every time a regulation changes you’re just having difficulty keeping pace with the change that’s happening.

So a change that happens from a regulation standpoint requires months of development effort and now you’re looking at a BRMS system where you don’t have to take that much development time in making those changes, you know, keeping up with that change with those regulations and compliance and making sure you can develop faster. That’s sort of one area that you would look at.

I think the other thing that companies would need to look at from a BRMS standpoint is are you a looking to go a BRMS route for making your business agile. Any development of new products or changes to existing products requires IT resources, for example. And every company says that we’re always in shortage of IT resources. Well, so one of the things that you could do is adopt a BRMS system that might be able to bring business people into the mix. So you now have them take the responsibility of the business logic, in turn requiring less IT resources and not having to wait for them.

The other opposite end to that is companies which might come back and say, hey look, we’ve got plenty of IT resources so that’s not really our worry. But the reason we’re not able to be more agile is because development is a really long process. It takes months for us to come out with any kind of a product or a product change. And for them, they might be looking at a BRMS system to shorten the development time because now you can specify and model and test your rules at the same time. So it’s not about bringing in business folks, it’s still about IT, but now you’re using the rules engine rather than having to write all of that code.

J. Maguire:

But I think about the BRMS solution as the place where the business folks and the IT folks kind of come together typically, true?

A Goyal:

Absolutely, It’s a tool where both business and IT need to collaborate with each other. So it’s no longer the case where, hey business, you give us the requirements and send it over to IT and not have any say in how things are happening. In a BRMS system it depends on how the organization wants to function. If business people are comfortable with writing the rules themselves, they still need to work with IT in making sure the application is ready to function with that business logic.

In another sense, you can have IT teams writing rules in a rules engine, but also collaborating with the business people and saying, hey look, you gave me a set of five requirements and you forgot about those three. What am I supposed to do with those three? It’s always a collaboration between business and IT.

C. Moore:

James, this is Connie. Can I make an adjustment?           

J. Maguire:

Please.

C. Moore:

I think whenever you have these conversations it’s the business analyst that’s that key bridge between IT and the business. And the business analyst might actually sit in IT. They might sit in different parts of the business. They might have a specialized competency center. They could be many different places are an organization.

And no matter what technology they’re talking about, whether it’s business management or business rules or predictive analytics or the list goes on and on and on, we’re talking about more and more, these complex technologies that are now evolving where the business has a lot of control over it, but not just any old business person. It’s usually some very well-trained, technically oriented business analyst. And I think that’s a very important distinction to make.

J. Maguire:

How does that tie into how a business might select a BRMS solution, Connie? What’s your take on that?

C. Moore:

Well, I have an opinion about business rules software that you should be looking for something that’s very logical and very straightforward and easy to use. And not all products are like that. Some are so unbelievably complicated that they will literally give you a migraine. And if you’re trying to empower a business, you don’t want a tool like that.

So if you want to get the job done and it’s a complex process, like underwriting, you have a lot that you’re expecting of the tool. But at the end of the day, if a business needs to be empowered then they need a business ready tool that can be understood by technically oriented business people.

J. Maguire:

An intuitive user interface, in other words.

C. Moore:

Absolutely.

J. Maguire:

Ken, what you’re take? What would you advise people in terms of selecting a BRMS solution?

K. Hess:

Yeah, I would have to agree with Connie in that it needs to be something that’s easy for people to use or it’s not going to get the adoption level that you’re really looking for in the business. And that’s what you really want is for people to engage and really use the tool for the fullest extent and not just use it as an Excel spreadsheet or something.

You really want full engagement. So it’s going to need to be something intuitive and easy to use and something that’s a little more, not just user friendly, but also business friendly. So I think the choice is going to have to come down to something that business friendly and user friendly.

J. Maguire:

Dana, what’s your take? I know you blog a lot of topics. If you were going to blog about this, what would you say? Like, how to select a BRMS solution?

D Gardner:

Yeah, I think user experience is becoming top of mind for lots of different parts of IT and business and that, I think, is supported by the need for additional automation across what we’re doing with IT. The role of IT is shifting toward a broker specifier, getting out of the weeds of implementation and deployment, and we’re seeing that cut across a lot of these other types of tools and management.

So, in addition to the user experience, we also want to look at a system that’s able to be backwards compatible to existing rules and the data where those rules exist. We want to be forward compatible and recognize that we’re doing extended enterprise activities, and so we’re going to need to have open APIs and open embrace of standards and the ability to extend our business rules regardless of where the business processes take us.

So you want to look for something that’s platform agnostic, that’s not just in one framework or one tool set, that cuts across the breadth and depth of the new openness that we’re looking for across organizations and processes, but also not have to cut and start from scratch, something that gives you return on your investment for what you’ve had in place with your rules engines and business processes all along.

J. Maguire:

Yeah, that new openness, in particular. It’s amazed me over the last five years or so, the idea of interoperability used to be a good idea, but now it’s really like table stakes. You can’t even walk up to the table without being really interoperable.

D. Gardner:

Yeah, I think that’s one of the reason that we’re seeing a lot of adoption of open source, readily. You know, we’re seeing more and more companies that have an open sources code, or I’m going to make a community development approach available to this. So they realized that the community is a great way to have that adoption of openness and more migration and interoperability.

But recognizing that islands are no longer the issue. You have to be able to extend across islands. Whether it’s islands of automation, platform, application, interfaces, what have you.

J. Maguire:

What about key trends shaping BRMS today? Whether it’s something involving data analytics, a mobile play? What’s shaping things? Ankur, what you’re sense of that?

A Goyal:

I think both of these are things that are shaping the trends for BRMS. From an analytics standpoint, there’s this big notion of big data, and how every company is talking about big data. And what they don’t realize is that while big data plays in a market where you have these disparate data sources dynamically looking at data and coming out with trends, there’s still a manual person process involved where once you’ve identified these trends and patterns from that data, you’re still looking at that trend and trying to figure out what decision should I make next. And I think that’s where the BRMS systems come into play as well is once you’ve identified these hundred or two hundred odd variables of dynamic data that you’ve analyzed, feed them into a decision engine that says, okay, based on these patterns and trends, here’s the decision that you should be making. I think definitely that decision analytics notion is definitely a big trend.

Mobile is another one. I’m just not sure when is mobile really going to take off from a rules perspective. Because most of the enterprises and the people that are building mobile apps are not really redefining their business logic. They’re building a mobile front end to an already existing business logic that might reside in a mainframe system or any other kind of system, and right not they’re all geared towards building a mobile app that focuses on the UI and not really the logic.

J. Maguire:

So, it’s processing power, but the data is not resident on the device?

A Goyal:

Right.

J. Maguire:

Yeah.

D. Gardner:

Hey James, just a thought on that. Perhaps combining a rules engine management capability with a big data analysis, we’ll start to change the way people think about the actual processes. Rather than just wrapping a user experience for a mobile device on it, you really do need to rethink the way you do work if in fact everybody in the field, across the organization, has access to all the data all the time with ease. So, perhaps there’s an accelerant when you bring in a comprehensive rules management system to help you better focus on the processes rather than the applications. And then you can take fuller advantage of things like mobile and big data and IT and bring cloud solutions to bear on how to support those processes best

J. Maguire:

When you talk about rethinking, what do you mean? What’s being rethought there?

D. Gardner:

Really, when we look at the combination, what some people call platform three, of cloud enablement, mobile front ends and extension of applications in data, of big data, collaboration.

J. Maguire:

Social

D. Gardner:

And social is part of big data, in my thinking. But we need to start doing business differently in terms of how work is defined and done and how resources are brought to bear on a problem. And more and more we’re seeing hybrid models where you’re going to do certain things with certain application internally. You’re going to be looking to have much deeper integration with partners, or across your supply chain, for example. Or extended enterprise activities.

And simply using the same old apps in the same old way doesn’t get you the productivity benefits of rethinking of how you do business. Whether it’s feedback loops from analysis that gets injected into decision making on a constant basis. Thoughts of how you take advantage of globalization or outsourcing, or resourcing back. Whether you’re thinking about of how to take advantage of people on the ground rather than in offices. Getting people out into the field. So it begs more than just an extension of existing absent data to a mobile device. You need to rethink how you do things, and in a rules engine helps you actually take those steps with a confidence, lower risk, and a sense that you can get complexity without chaos.

C. Moore:

I think that’s true. And I think you could make an argument, a strong argument, that business rules is a core foundational technology that should be found at the heart of many things. But I also think that for whatever reason, business rules often gets overlooked. So you have conversations about predictive analytics and big data and so forth all the time, and business rules never comes up.

I myself live in the business process management world and we’ve moved onto adaptive case management and you hear collaboration and social and big data and process management, and business rules often goes unmentioned. And I think it may be because there’s not a strong, wide spread understanding of them. It may be because they’ve never hit a critical mass in terms of volumes of sales or whatever, but I think that business rules makes all of this decisioning, whether it’s a process or analyzing a massive amount of information, it makes everything better but people just forget about it.

A Goyal:

Just adding, I completely agree with you on that, Connie. And there are a couple of reasons for that. One is, like you pointed out, lack of awareness. Rules engines have existed for about 15 years now. There are so many people that just have absolutely no idea that rule engines exist. And when we talk to these guys and we talk to these prospects and we talk about rules engines, for some there’s immediately a light bulb moment where they go, wow, my life would have been so much simpler if I knew something like this existed.

And I think the second piece of that is that from a big process standpoint, the companies that are implementing the big process shades and the big BPM solutions, these are big daunting systems that take a lot of time out of what the company should actually be focusing on, so implementing a BPM solution in itself is so complicated that implementing rules engines, which actually enhances the value of BPM, never really crosses their mind.

J. Maguire:

Don’t you think though, Ankur, that as big data continues to rise, BRMS will rise with it? Even though they’re different ideas directly, but they will help each other.

A Goyal:

Absolutely. Any kind of decision that you think about, right, requires data. You’re not making a decision in silos, you’re making a decision based on several different amounts of data that you have. And I think as you connect these data sources and you get a lot more information, absolutely, the more data you have the better it is for a rules engine to look at all of these data points and give you that decision.

J. Maguire:

Ken, what you’re take in terms of what trends are in the BRMS market. What’s shaping things out there?

K. Hess:

Well, I think Dana brought up some good points when he pointed out globalization and open source, and also cross platform capability. People need access to their data everywhere and anywhere. You know, if they’re in a coffee shop or if they’re in Mumbai, or if they’re in London or wherever they are, they need access on whatever device they have with that.

So I think that’s a big trend. It’s not just mobile, but it’s absolute access to your data. So I think that’s a major trend that we’re going to see in the future is that people are going to require access to their data anywhere, everywhere and on any device.

J. Maguire:

What about things like actual pitfalls, concerns, challenges regarding BRMS. What’s a major worry? Connie, what’s your sense? What would you tell people about that?

C. Moore:

I think a major concern I’ve already raised which is just extreme complexity. And I realize that there are some process that are just flat out complex because of regulatory requirements, especially in insurance where you have every state with different legalities and so forth. But over complicating it will really hurt adoption, slow the projects down and turn them into very costly expensive things. So I think a good way…

J. Maguire:

Overcomplicated user interface, you mean.

C. Moore:

The user interface, the everything. The deployment. Oh, you mean the complexity of the product?

J. Maguire:

Right.

C. Moore:

The back end and the user interface. And I think one way to do this is to take inventory of the kinds of processes you have and what are they’re characteristics, and then do a matching process, because it may not be one single business rules engine is the total solution for the entire enterprise, it may be more horses for courses, where a certain kind of process maps to a certain type of product. And I think that’s the kind of thinking I would do in order to save a lot of money and save a lot of time and a lot of aggravation.

J. Maguire:

It seems like any product that asks IT folks and business folks to work closely together could have some challenges to begin with. Ankur, what’s your take on things to be considered about with BRMS solutions?

A Goyal:

Sure. I think there are a couple things. I completely agree from a business and IT standpoint that you’re talking about. You’re talking about user-friendliness, right? But I also think that the whole notion of you need to figure out who the intended user action is.

We do talk about business and IT collaboration. Oftentimes what happens is even though you bought the tool thinking that your business people are going to use it, businesses sort of revolt because they don’t want to take on the ownership. They don’t want to take on that liability. It’s always easier to blame things on IT if things go wrong rather than take that ownership, right? So when we’re talking about that collaboration we have to figure out who that intended user is.

And from a user-friendliness aspect, if there’s any chance that you do want your business people to use it, you have to look at a tool that is friendly for the business people, not just from a UI aspect, but from an aspect that you’re not asking the business people to learn any kind of a proprietary language, right? It’s so intuitive in the sense that without having to learn any kind of technology, you can start using the tool.

The other thing, I think, that was mentioned was one-platform agnostic, right? But the whole notion that Connie brought up is from an enterprise standpoint you need to figure out if you’re looking for a rules engine for a very small project that you have in mind, or you looking to build an enterprise-wide decisioning strategy where, as a company, you’re saying, look, all of my business logic is going to reside in your engines. And the needs for each project might be different.

And I think the last piece that is a big risk that I see oftentimes is that when you’re looking at products, when you’re looking at different tools, companies typically tend to give you a very superficial and very simple demo of the product that blows everything out of the water just because they’re using very simple rules and they know what the pitfalls of the product are.

I would force the customers and prospects and push back on those demos and say no, I want a really complex use case with hierarchical data associations, really complex logic. Because you never really know how complex the product is going to be to use when you’re actually in a real life practical scenario.

J. Maguire:

So, in other words, you would ask the sales person to use variables of the real company that they’re pitching to?

A Goyal:

Absolutely. And that’s what we call a proof concept, right? You go down, you say, well, I need to build a POC, a proof of concept. Here’s a sample of my most complex logic that I have in my company. Show me how your product works with that.

So it’s a big investment and you don’t want to go easy on any software vendor and take their word of mouth, right? You want to test them before making that investment. You don’t want to be in the position two years down the line whether you’re actually suing the vendor, for example, that your product doesn’t work and I’m out a million dollars and still nowhere close to where I was supposed to be.

J. Maguire:

Dana, what do you think the potential pitfalls or challenges are for a BRMS solution?

D. Gardner:

Right. I think you want to perhaps be careful that you’re dealing with a vendor where the rules engine is very ancillary to their main business and is an afterthought and is therefore is not very well engineered or sophisticated. You want to look for a vendor where the rules engine is a primary product line and is part of their overall business and success, and with that you would probably see a well engineered and well thought out product that is advancing beyond just a standalone repository and becoming more like what we saw with software where it becomes more object oriented, modular, where patterns of reuse, where services orientation are brought to bear, and where sophistication and scale are part of the top requirements so that you can either use it on a project basis or extend it to be an enterprise-wide solution.

So you want to look for a well engineered product from a vendor that looks at this product line as an essential part of its growth and success, and that actually allows for patterns of reuse, modular definition of what a good rules snippet or flow is, and how you can extend that and reuse it and that helps on that whole issue about business users becoming more adept at this rather than starting from scratch every time they want to create a flow. They’ve got something that’s already well developed that they can start from and improve upon.

C. Moore:

And James, I think that’s a bit of a complication. It just is what it is. But often business rules software is embedded in something bigger. And so then you get into you’re picking out the whole, but the parts are very important, too. And I think that that can just become a complicating factor. You can also buy business rules engines directly and then have someone or yourself integrate them into something bigger but I’m not sure what percentage of BREs are sold as part of something else. But I bet it’s pretty high.

J. Maguire:

Are you recommending a standalone or not standalone, or that’s not the point?

C. Moore:

Yeah, that’s what I was saying was that, you know, we’ve been talking about selecting and matching to your requirements and so forth, but the question becomes what are you buying and how is it packaged?

Because if you perceive that you’re buying… I’m sorry; I keep using business process because that’s my bag. If you perceive you’re buying a complex, advances business process management suite, and business rules is actually a very important piece of that suite, but you may not realize it because it’s one of many things, what becomes the more important thing? Where do you really drill in and make sure it matches your requirement?

I mean, it could be that the whole thing matches your requirement and the business rules engine matches your requirement and everything is great. Or it could be something sub-optimal, and what do you sub-optimize on, for example? I just think it’s a little bit complicated.

A Goyal:

Just to quickly say, I agree with Connie, it is a little bit complicated. And if you think about it, rules engines or business logic doesn’t exist in an silo. It’s always part of a process. It’s always part of a big stack of IT systems that a company has. And no one really wakes up in the morning saying, hey, I need to buy a rules engine. They have a problem and they wake up trying to solve that problem. And one way could be that you buy these separate components and try to work them in, which is where you look for a standalone rules engine. The other way is you look at either software companies or software vendors that have this big solution suite and in most cases that we’ve seen, rules engine as a component is just there so they can checkbox, right? If the question comes in, hey what do we do about rules, we can say that we have something, it might not be as sophisticated. It might not be as user friendly, but at least we have it.

So I think there’s two ways. Either you buy those components separately that are designed for this specific functionality, or you look for a complete solution suite where everything is a small component but on all those things are the focus for a company.

J. Maguire:

The complexity of the complete solution suite creates a lot of questions that may be even more difficult to answer.

A Goyal:

Absolutely.

J. Maguire:

What about looking into the future. Say if we have this conversation three years from now, what would we be talking about for business management rules software. You know, what does the future hold? Ken, what’s your take on that? Where does this go? What is this sector going?

K. Hess:

Well, I think from an architectural point of view, which is something I would be more familiar with is that everything will be SaaS-based. I think that people will want so much access to their data, like I’ve said before on any device and any place. I think these solutions are going to be cloud-based or SaaS-based and you’ll be able to pick up any device and get access to your data, and the rules that are happening right now to your business. So I think that that’s going to be the trend. I think the old school way of doing things with an internal system walled off from the world is going to go the way of the dinosaur. I think cloud-based BRMS solutions are going to be the future.

J. Maguire:

Dana, your sense of the future? Looking in a crystal ball, what are you talking about for BRMS a few years from now?

D. Gardner:

I think the profile and importance of rules management and process management are going to get significantly greater and higher in peoples’ thinking and become more top of mind. And that’s because when you do finally evolve toward some sort of a hybrid cloud with a lot of SaaS and PaaS mixed in environment, what defines your company is the relationships between those assets and resources and the way that you manage a relationship between a supplier or a partner. And those rules need to be really well managed and defined and reused and extensible and protected.

We didn’t talk too much about risk and compliance issues. So as the benefits and productivity of things like cloud grow and we adopt them, where the resources reside and how they’re supported on what hardware/software framework is less relevant, but the relationships become more important. And what defines my organization, as a company is the rules that bind me to processes, to work, to assets, to resources, groups of people and other enterprises themselves. Therefore, this is becoming, I think, a much more important and essential piece of any enterprise, is good process rules management and definition, extensibility, capability and skills.

J. Maguire:

Connie, your sense of the future of BRMS? Where is this going?

C. Moore:

Yeah, I’d like to follow onto that and talk about a really, I think, significant development, which is, in fact, we’ve alluded to it, sort of the next generation development platform. There’s a whole body of thought that I agree with that the whole boundary of business process management has gotten so squishy it’s spilled over into other areas, so you have the combination of a business process management suite with a business rules engine that also has analytics and collaboration and social and document management and output management and you can kind of go on with this list.

And what is happening now are vendors that make these platforms. But these vendors have these platforms, these expanded platforms. They are now building out of the box apps and they are having their partner channel build these out of the box apps. And they can be cross industry, they can be industry specific. And so what I see is just this plethora of new apps that are going to come out that have business rules in them and are going to have business process in them and analytics in them, and one of the key elements of these new out of the box apps, and I’m not talking about mobile apps, I’m talking about applications, is change. Support for changing your roles. Support for changing your processes. Support for changing the data that you’re monitoring coming from big data. And I think this is going to be an explosion. There are going to be so many new applications, and they’re all going to be based on a much more flexible and adaptable platform. I think it will be exciting times.

J. Maguire:

Interesting. Ankur, your sense of the future of BRMS? Where is this going?

A Goyal:

Right. I think I agree a lot with what the experts have said. I think cloud is definitely a big play. Over the next several years I think people will try to figure out what going to the cloud will really mean, whether it’s as a service play or just hosted in a cloud or in a private cloud environment.

But I think also if you look at the way rules engines exist today, right? We talked about either rule engines are a good fit if you’ve got constantly changing rules. And either they’re large or they’re overly complex. And I think as we go on, as customers become more aware of rule engines, there will be a big push to simplifying the UI, not from a business or IT perspective, but from an extent where what about those customers where those rules aren’t constantly changing? What happens with those customers where the rules aren’t overly complex, but they still want to be about to use a rules engine with a relatively simpler UI. I think that would be a really critical play as well.

And I think the last piece would just be figuring out this big data piece. I think once all these data sources get connected… I was in a region a couple weeks ago where one of the biggest problems they said was our data sources are not connected, so rules engine, we couldn’t even use a rules engine because today we need data from ten different data sources, so we have to print out reports and individually look at those ten reports there’s no way that data is getting connected. And I think once that continues to happen, you’ll see a lot more adoption of those rules coming into play and those decisions being automated.

J. Maguire:

Yeah, that middle point there, if I understand you correctly, you talked about simpler applications for a business that has simpler needs?

A Goyal:

Right.

J. Maguire:

Are you talking about a different application altogether? Or one application that can scale up in simplicity or complexity?

A Goyal:

Either one. I think it doesn’t really matter. What I was trying to say was rules shouldn’t be thought of as overly complex or either a large volume or constantly changing, right? If you have rules that aren’t constantly changing every three months or every six months, right, maybe they’re changing on an annual basis. Any time that you’re building a new application you should be thinking about where is my logic going to reside? Should it reside in the form of a code or should it reside in a rules engine? And when you start building out those applications that have a relatively simpler logic, you would still be able to use those rules engines, because over the next several years they’ll have been so much simplified for those use cases.

J. Maguire:

Makes sense. Alright. Well, that’s a lot of good stuff. I think someone learned something along the way. I know I did. I appreciate the four of yours’ expertise. I’ll send you a link and we can all tweet it. Thank you very much for joining us.


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