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Ankur Goyal, Principal Product Manager, Progress Corticon
Ankur Goyal takes an in depth look at the many considerations that go into choosing the right BRMS.
Recently, I was part of a Google+ Hangout hosted by Datamation discussing, “Trends and Best Practices in Business Rules Management Systems (BRMS),” that featured Progress® Corticon® as well as industry analysts and experts. During that session, which you can view by registering here, I discussed what makes up a BRMS and how BRMS’ can enable business productivity and improve competitiveness.
In my last post, I discussed why you might need a BRMS. In this post, I discuss how to choose a BRMS.
BRMS is a solution that enables business and IT to collaborate with each other. The days of business departments or units determining system or project requirements, sending them “over the wall” to IT and waiting to see how things turn out, are over. With a BRMS implementation, how these projects proceed depend upon how the organization wants to function.
If business people are comfortable writing business rules themselves, they still have to work with IT to make sure the application is ready to function with that business logic. You may also have IT analysts writing rules with the business rules engine, but collaborating with business people to insure that all rules are accounted for properly and that uncertainty, risk and other considerations are brought to the fore.
As Connie Moore, Senior VP of Research with Digital Clarity, rightly commented during the Corticon Google+ Hangout, “the business analyst is that key bridge between IT and business.” Such an analyst may sit in IT, in a particular business department, or be part of a team dedicated to regulatory matters. These analysts could use Microsoft Excel to manage business rules.
Any BRMS you choose should be very logical, straightforward and easy to use. Today’s best enterprise applications are intuitive, fast and as simple to learn as any phone app. In addition to a great user experience, the BRMS you choose should:
Your BRMS should provide a return on the investment you’ve made in centralizing your logic in a rules engine all along.
Rule engines come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are based on open source while others use more standard technologies; some use variations of RETE algorithm while others use patented proprietary algorithms; some available for free while others are offered at different price points.
Before implementing a BRMS system, figure out who will use it. When I meet with clients, I find that some companies buy a business rules management tool for one intended user base, a business analyst for example, but the tool ends up being used by some other department. The reason, in certain cases is that business analysts might revolt against the notion of using a rules engine because they don’t want to take on ownership of the tool. It’s always easier to blame things on IT when things go wrong. The reverse may also be true. So while it may seem obvious, make sure you have user buy-in.
In addition to user acceptance, I recommend the following:
If there’s any chance that you will want your business users to create, modify or manage business rules, make sure that the BRMS you adopt is truly user-friendly. By this, I mean you have to look at a tool that is not just friendly from a user interface aspect, but one that doesn’t require the user to learn any kind of proprietary language. Seek out something that is so intuitive and simple that employees can start using the tool easily without having to learn any kind of special technology.
This approach works equally well in the scenario where you are undecided about where the responsibility for logic will reside in the future. Rule engines that provide true user friendliness can be used by either business or IT since there is no special knowledge or technical skillset required.
As I mentioned above, you want to get a BRMS that is platform-agnostic and can work with any OS or device. This is important because you may be looking for a business rules engine for a product you have in mind or for an enterprise-wide business strategy. And, in the future, your strategy may change—you may determine later on that you want to switch away from a product focus to a wider focus. So you need to know if all of your business logic is going to reside in the engine, or if you will have different needs for each product.
In cases where several different departments within an organization have a varied use of technology and there is no standard (for example the use of both .NET and Java), implementing an enterprise wide decision making strategy can only be accomplished if your BRMS supports all technologies being used across the enterprise.
When you are looking at different tools, companies may give you a very superficial demonstration of their product based on rules devised for that purpose. You can push back and ask for a complex use case with hierarchical data associations and complex logic. You want to make sure that as you grow and your use case becomes more complicated, the rule engine continues to provide simple and easy ways to manage increasingly complex logic. The worst thing is that it could break down or get too difficult to use.
Do not go easy on the software vendors; instead ask them to build a proof of concept (POC). Provide some of your most complex business logic that you have in your company and ask the vendor to model the rules to see how the product works. Do this with all rule engines you are considering and then compare apples to apples. You are going to invest in a solution that will take its place among your IT stack. So don’t just take their word for it. You’ll want to test them before you make that investment.
A great recipe for success in your next project with a rules engine is to get rid of all pre-conceived notions and choose the BRMS that meets your current and future needs. So go on, see how Progress Corticon fits your needs and solves your business problems. Test it out with our 30-day free trial.
Ankur Goyal is the Principal Product Manager for Progress Corticon.
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