What is a Business Rules Engine?

What is a Business Rules Engine?

Posted on May 08, 2015 0 Comments

The co-founder of Progress® Corticon® explains why you should care about business rules engines.

Business rules are statements that govern the decisions we make day in and day out in our business. These statements take uncertainty out of the equation so that decisions can be made quickly and accurately, with minimal disruption to customers.

Just as you make negotiations in your everyday life—I need to stock up on groceries, but I don’t have enough fuel in my vehicle, so I will have to stop at the station first—businesses must consider millions of calculations each day about their services to their customers. For example:

  • A car rental company representative must decide what vehicle to provide to a customer at their counter
  • An emergency room triage nurse must decide which patients in the lobby should be seen first
  • An insurance company must decide whether or not to pay a new claim

What is Decision Logic?

To serve high volumes of customers quickly and accurately, businesses put rules in place to guide decision making. For the above cases, a business rule could be something like the following:

  • Rule: Gold rental customers receive free available upgrades
  • Rule: Patients with cough and high fever should receive a chest x-ray
  • Rule: Claims with invalid billing codes are rejected

These rules constitute the logic of decisions. Complex decisions require hundreds or thousands of rules to fully describe, and it may take people years of study to learn these rules. For example, physicians require years of education and training to learn the “rules” of medicine in order to make patient care decisions.

Embedding Business Rules into Code is No Longer Best Practice

Business rules are sometimes documented. But, more often than not, rules are in the heads of subject matter experts, managers, analysts and executives. When automated, rules are typically embedded into application code by developers as part of IT systems. In this way billions of micro-decisions—such as negotiating payments at lightning speed when you swipe a credit card, or when approving an online application—can be made each day in hundreds of industries. The car rental representative’s terminal presents him with vehicle options per the customer’s plan; the claims agent’s workflow system immediately returns claims with invalid billing codes to the claimant.

Business rules come from sources both internal and external to the organization. Internally, the business sets policy and uses best practices learned from previous client engagements, industry organizations, partners and others. External rules come from local and governmental laws and regulations, such as the Affordable Care Act, as well as contracts between the business and its suppliers and partners.

When business rules change, the decision logic that represents those rules must also change. The problem is that the rules may be implemented across multiple different systems, and combine with other application logic in complex ways. As a result, once our systems grow in complexity, a simple rule change that business people can describe in minutes can take months of programming time to change. This is why modern enterprises are turning away from hard-coding business rules.

What is the difference between BRM, BRMS and BRE?

  • Business Rules Management (BRM) is a discipline that helps us manage business rules and decision logic as enterprise assets.
  • A Business Rules Management System (BRMS) is a technology system used to capture decision logic as business rules and automate rules across applications. Instead of embedding rules as code within multiple applications, a BRMS enables the rules to be represented in their simple business-friendly form—as business rules. With a BRMS, the rules are externalized from application code, allowing them to be called by multiple applications and changed independently from the applications themselves.
  • A Business Rules Engine (BRE) is the execution component within a BRMS. When an automated decision must be made, the rules engine processes the relevant rules to make an instantaneous and accurate decision.

Progress Corticon is a Best-in-Class Business Rules Engine

Progress Corticon is a best of class BRMS that empowers developers to manage decision logic as business rules, not programming code. This allows traditional developers to be far more productive.  And, it enables a new class of developers—business subject matter experts—to directly manage decision logic.

A diagram of how the Progress Corticon Business Rules Engine works

How the Progress Corticon Business Rules Engine works (Click to enlarge)


Progress Corticon uniquely provides safeguards to ensure the integrity of the decision logic. For any given decision, Corticon automatically identifies rules that are incomplete, in conflict, or circular in logic.  This “referential rule integrity” prevents garbage rules from entering the rulebase, and is as important to BRMS as the concept of referential data integrity is for the database.

Corticon compiles rules down into a high performance executable (.exe) that can be integrated using open standards into any number of enterprise systems. Rules can be integrated natively into Java and .NET apps, integrated into any application that can call Web or REST services, and tied directly to a database.

No matter the number of rules, complexity of rules, the amount of data the rules need to reference, or the numbers of transactions the rules have to execute on, Corticon is so high performance that you can be assured it will scale to meet your needs.

Last, Corticon enables fast and safe rule changes. When you want to make a change to a specific rule, Corticon highlights what other rules that change will impact, in ways business people can understand. Users can make changes in a matter of minutes rather than months.

To learn more, visit Progress Corticon on the web or try it free now.

Dr. Mark Allen

Dr. Mark Allen

Dr. Mark Allen is a Progress General Manager, dedicated to advancing business automation and passionate about applying technology to improve the world. In 2000, he founded Corticon, later acquired by Progress in 2011. Under his leadership, Corticon became a leading independent business rules platform with hundreds of customers in diverse industries such as financial services, government, healthcare and insurance. Prior to founding Corticon, Dr. Allen developed rules-based systems to help physicians make better patient care decisions. Dr. Allen has a B.S. in Applied Physics from Columbia University, and an M.D. from the University of California Los Angeles.


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