Why Is Rule Management Technology "Revolutionary" (Part 1)

James   Taylor
James Taylor CEO, Decision Management Solutions Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by James Taylor

In this edition of Technology Review, James Taylor from HNC Software discusses how the use of a rules engine can help you go "beyond personalization." -- Neal Fishman.

Introduction

Rule Management Technology is revolutionary for many reasons, but three are most significant:

  • It allows non-technical individuals to change the rules in major production systems or in personal mobile service applications without any help from IT or the service provider. This delivers revolutionary improvements in operational efficiency and in the precision of adjustment to changing conditions.

  • For many firms and organizations, it provides a revolutionary improvement in the ability to store, review, analyze and improve business policies and procedures.
  • By separating business rules from procedural code, it profoundly changes the way applications are designed, built and maintained. In some ways the set of changes beginning to be generated by the adoption of rule management technology rivals those generated by the integration of relational database technology into the development process.

21st Century Application Architectures

Because they are a revolutionary technology, rule management technology is destined to become a major component in the application architectures of many organizations over the next five years. Many of the core application development efficiencies and industry or process-specific requirements that are driving the increased adoption of this technology have been touched upon earlier in this article. It is appropriate at this point, however, to reflect on the special impact of rule management technology on CRM, on the growth of mobile service applications and on taking businesses "beyond personalization".

Support of Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Imagine a world where you could design and build a database and three customer self-service applications - a connected Web application, a mobile application (Palm, WindowsCE and mobile phone using WAP) and an IVR (Integrated Voice Response) phone application - that share a set of rule services. Some are used by multiple applications, some by just one - but all of the business logic is centrally developed using rule management technology. These rule services evaluate customer history in context, segment customers, present account information, present Web content and useful Web links. The services also execute decision-making processes and business transactions based on a sequence of rule evaluations that can launch all of the necessary database lookups and calculations. Rule updates are put into effect on a scheduled basis, updating the operation of the client applications without any downtime. Business domain experts can easily and safely update the rules that change frequently and put changes into effect immediately or after approval. Rules that vary by country, state, division and product line can be modified on a decentralized basis by the appropriate business people, using intuitive Web-based rule maintenance applications with appropriate access controls. It means delivering superior customer service in the very near future. Rule management technology can provide the segmentation, personalization and business rules that allow all customer-facing applications to provide better service with enterprise consistency. It is part of what we are talking about when we talk about the era of user-centric computing. It is part of what we mean by rule management technology being a revolutionary change.

Support for the Mobile Revolution

Most usage of rule management technology to date has been fundamentally "enterprise-centric." In other words, the applications being built were focused on business processes that enforced enterprise goals, policies and procedures. They also required users to be connected to the Internet, either at the office or via a standard phone line. We are now seeing an entirely new class of "user-centric," mobile application is beginning to be built. While many continue to enforce business objectives and rules, they are focused on taking advantage of the paradigm shift to multi-channel communication. These applications focus on personalization in new ways. They require high-scalability and advanced payment technologies as well as the ability to send alerts, display content on multiple devices and enforce rules. Most of all, they require giving the user a far greater degree of control over what services they receive when and where. Blaze Advisor from FairIsaac rule maintenance technology is a critical enabling technology for the successful design and deployment of user-centric mobile service applications.


Rules can take business "Beyond Personalization"

All across the e-business landscape, information system vendors and their customers are talking about "personalizing" interactions between applications and those who use them. Simply put, many of today’s personalization technologies fall far short of what is really required. When visiting a Web site, it might be nice to be reminded that the site remembers your name based on some cookie saved on your browser. Sometimes it is useful to get suggestions that people like you also buy "Harry Potter" books. It could be somewhat reassuring to know that if you have a lot of money you are classified as a "Platinum" customer. However, we can now do much more. We can go to a place we call "Beyond Personalization."

Beyond Personalization is not just a new way of thinking about software applications, it is also a specific destination. It is a place where business process management meets business process personalization, and both meet the multi-channel communication options that characterize the 21st century style of computing. These channels include PC-based Web browsers and a growing range of mobile devices. Beyond Personalization is a place where a triggering event can take information from almost any source and combine it in real time with precise, relevant business rules as well as the user’s individual profile or specific history with your organization. It is the desired destination of most externally facing and many internally facing Web applications. It will soon emerge as the foundation for intelligent mobile applications. Viewed from an enterprise business perspective, rule management technology is truly revolutionary. It greatly enhances business control over enterprise computing, and it dramatically improves the end user’s experience, with efficient self-service business process management and quantum leaps in personalization and service. This article outlines HNC's view of rule management technology’s role in computing today and in the future.

When we think about Beyond Personalization, we focus on four key business and operational requirements or pillars. If all four of these are provided, our Beyond Personalization house should stand firm. Providing these pillars to our customers is the mission of the rule management technology division of HNC Software.

1. Support of Business Process Management

Enterprises run their businesses with repeatable business processes driven by general business rules with specific rules for specific situations and customers. Thus, supporting the process requirements of business is fundamental. Rules need to collaborate and work together to complete a business process, and they need to be easy to build and manipulate in modular units with adequate controls. In addition, process support requires that rules can look up information from diverse sources and create temporary records to allow calculations and decisions to be collected and stored in memory. Rules need to calculate values and make assessments. Missing and unavailable data events must be handled gracefully; questions may need answering. Finally and most importantly, rules are evaluated or executed in a sequence. Taken together, these capabilities represent the business process management pillar — allowing enterprises to do business using independent rule services made up of executable, sequenced, declarative rules, rather than being forced to write embedded, procedural computer code.

2. Support of Personalization

This pillar means supporting the growing expectation that software applications should respond holistically to the person with whom they are interacting. Sometimes this takes the form of individual or account information displays that are viewed as relevant or appropriate prior to knowing what the user is interested in seeing. Some people describe this as a "context" that is tied to the user or account. Sometimes it involves asking appropriate questions so that the user can provide information that will drive personalized communication. In other instances, it involves making educated guesses and presenting information based on either click stream data or based on user profile/category information. The focus of the personalization effort can be the user of a customer self-service application, the subject customer of an application used by the employees of a business, an employee or a consumer. In all cases, it involves providing the right information to the user at the right time. This is increasingly viewed as a key differentiator in the provision of customer service and in the creation of an effective customer relationship management environment. Only rule management technology can provide the flexible ability to personalize based on any combination of group profile, individual profile, or transaction history associated with an individual application user or subject. Only rule management technology can drive the display of such a wide range of information at the right time and in the right place.

3. Support of Application Maintenance

Going "Beyond Personalization" requires a new application maintenance paradigm that can deliver faster, easier application modification. Business rule changes are first identified by the responsible business people. They are often domain experts and process owners who have the authority to authorize application modifications within their area of responsibility. Personalization rule changes are identified by either business personnel or individual users themselves. The fastest and safest way to empower these people is to give them the tools they need to make the application changes themselves. This requires giving them access to easy-to-use rule maintenance applications that allow them to maintain the policies, procedures and rules for which they are responsible. For many applications, control belongs to the individual in a user-centric world. By taking IT "out of the loop" for everyday application maintenance, advanced rule management technology can make applications more adaptable and less vulnerable to staffing and skill set shortages.

4. Support of Enterprise Consistency

This refers to the long standing but elusive software development goal of "write once, deploy anywhere." As the number of applications in an enterprise grows, specific individual pieces of business logic are needed in more and more places. Increasingly, different applications with overlapping or identical purposes are being deployed over different communication mediums. Web customer self-service applications, call center applications and mobile applications are obvious cases in point. When business rules change, it is increasingly common that more than one application must be changed. It would be reasonable to expect that each application that changed as a result of a modification to a business rule to be synchronized as to become effective at the same time. Rule management technology, by separating business logic from application code, allows the creation of sharable business logic services. This means that the same business logic (such as how to treat "Platinum" customers, or whether a customer is eligible to buy a type of insurance) can be applied across multiple customer touch-points including the increasingly important set of mobile devices.

Summary

We believe that organizations reaching "Beyond Personalization" in a given industry or market will achieve significant competitive advantage. Similarly, organizations that ignore any of the four pillars will risk their reputations and their ability to react to market changes at "Internet speed." We believe that organizations failing to equip themselves to provide the best in customer relationship management or to prepare for the mobile computing revolution will risk their business.

So, if we want to revolutionize our approach to designing, developing, and maintaining the applications that will deliver all this to our customers, what kind of technology do we need? Well, rules management technology, obviously. But what are the functional requirements of successful rules management technology?

Functional Requirements of a Complete Rule Management Solution

Rule management systems require a number of capabilities to be successful. There are at least eight major ones in a complete system, including:

1. The ability to use and refine existing object/data models.


These models might be expressed in terms of Java classes, CORBA objects, relational models, XML schemas or any number of other formats. If rule management technology is going to be effective it must be integrated with these existing models. Rule management technology must be able to "import" these models and allow rules to be designed against them. It must also allow such models to be extended to support temporary properties and objects required by the rule service.

2. The ability to interoperate with existing data sources.


Once designed, an effective rule management technology must allow data to be read in from any number of existing data sources so that this information can be used in rule services. It must also allow the rule service to update this information as it needs to. This must be true regardless of how the data is currently stored and accessed (XML, relational databases, other object-based systems) - the rule management technology must allow you to treat all this information as though it is a set of objects that your rules can manipulate.

3. Sophisticated rule syntax

The rule syntax must allow executable rules to be written in near-standard English sentences that can be easily understood by non-technical people. It must support rule constructs such as "whenever something is true" or "any instance of something where". It must allow rule writers to use their own language for all or most of the rule.

4. Testing and management tools

To handle complex rule bases you need sophisticated testing and management tools. Tools that support rule service partitioning, execution path testing, service assembly and service deployment. Tools that allow you to watch the execution of rulesets and ruleflows, set breakpoints, check data values during execution, use test instances and so on.

5. The ability to generate rule maintenance applications


It is not enough to be able to give business managers and policy-owners access to the rule base. To effectively manage their own rules they need applications that completely hide the structured rule language. These applications must allow rules to be safely constructed and modified by the right people with the right data entry controls. These data entry controls must be driven by the actual data stored in existing systems and the changes must be scheduled or instant in production systems.

6. Frameworks for reuse

To promote enterprise consistency and re-use, the technology must provide frameworks to allow the reuse of rule structures and the sharing of rules. It must do this in a way that supports the specific requirements of user-centric applications and the application service provider business model such that each end-user or ASP customer can have their own instances of certain rules.

7. Scalable and schedulable deployment


To support large scale systems, it must be possible to deploy rule services across one or many applications on one or many hosts in a large distributed computing environment. The rule service must support a wide range of platforms and it must take advantage of scalable architectures such as J2EE application servers so that it scales as well as they do.

Summary

Blaze Advisor from FairIsaac is a complete rule management technology that includes all of these functions. How you build applications with Advisor is profiled in a white paper titled "How Blaze Advisor Works" available from http://www.fairisaac.com/white_papers/. Blaze Advisor helps you go "beyond personalization" and revolutionize how you design, develop and maintain business applications using rule management technology.

If you’re using a Business Rules product or tool, you can submit your own evaluation of the product and we’ll post it on our web site. Additionally, if you would like to see a write-up of a particular tool, let me know. My email address is: nfishman@brsolutions.com

Standard citation for this article:


citations icon
James Taylor , "Why Is Rule Management Technology "Revolutionary" (Part 1)" Business Rules Journal Vol. 2, No. 7, (Jul. 2001)
URL: http://www.brcommunity.com/a2001/n003.html

About our Contributor:


James   Taylor
James Taylor CEO, Decision Management Solutions

James Taylor is CEO of Decision Management Solutions and one of the leading experts in decision management.

James works with clients to develop effective technology solutions to improve business performance. James was previously a Vice President at Fair Isaac Corporation where he developed and refined the concept of enterprise decision management or EDM. The best known proponent of the approach, James is a passionate advocate of decision management. James has 20 years experience in all aspects of the design, development, marketing and use of advanced technology including CASE tools, project planning and methodology tools as well as platform development in PeopleSoft's R&D team and consulting with Ernst and Young. He develops approaches, tools and platforms that others can use to build more effective information systems. He is an experienced speaker and author, with his columns and articles appearing regularly in industry magazines.

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