Business Rule Re-Engineering

Ronald G.  Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross

An exciting new idea is emerging in the industry.   I am not sure whether the idea has its roots in Business Process Re-Engineering (BPR), or in traditional database circles.   More likely, its origin lies at the intersection of the two -- with that small, but potent, new group of professionals now focused on business rules.   I discussed the idea most recently with Wanda Michaels of Kogawa Consulting.

The idea is based on the observation that the dollar-and-cents savings that result from successful BPR projects usually have more to do with rethinking business rules, than with re-doing workflow (i.e., business "process") per se.  Actually, this should not come as a surprise.  Since business rules are more basic to the company than workflow or business "process," the leverage they offer naturally should be greater.

Let me offer an example.  A large retail concern had an existing business rule that all its products should be priced a least one cent less than the competition's.  To support this rule, it ran continuous checks on competitors' product pricing.  This resulted in frequent adjustments, and a never-ending cycle of re-tagging items in stock -- a time-consuming, expensive, and very cumbersome process.

Initially, the company sought to re-engineer the associated workflow.  However, this produced no more than incremental improvements.  Then the company decided to rethink the pricing rule itself.

The company had assumed that it would lose customers on as small as a one-cent price differential.  After some discussion, this assumption was proven wrong.  As a result, the price differential was raised to a higher level.  This decision, in and of itself, reduced the workflow load to a more tolerable level.  (To allow for fast-paced adjustment in the future, they also subsequently established the price differential as an easily-changed parameter for their IS environment.)

I am virtually certain that many, if not most, successful BPR projects tell a similar story.  The obvious question is why not simply do Business Rule Re-Engineering?  This is an idea whose time I believe has come.

In proposing this, let me be clear that I believe workflow still has a role to play.  Stepping through as-is and to-be procedures (or business "processes") with users, if done correctly, remains one of the best techniques to identify and analyze business rules with re-engineering potential.

The difference with Business Rule Re-Engineering is really one of emphasis -- putting business rules at the center of things, rather than on the periphery.  But such "adjustments" often have a way of producing thundering revolutions.  Just think what Copernicus managed by putting the sun at the center of things, rather than leaving it on the periphery.

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "Business Rule Re-Engineering" (Mar./Apr. 1997)

About our Contributor:

Ronald  G. Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Ronald G. Ross is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC, where he actively develops and applies the BRS Methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak.

Ron is recognized internationally as the "father of business rules." He is the author of ten professional books including the groundbreaking first book on business rules The Business Rule Book in 1994. His newest are:

Ron serves as Executive Editor of and its flagship publication, Business Rules Journal. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences world-wide. More than 50,000 people have heard him speak; many more have attended his seminars and read his books.

Ron has served as Chair of the annual International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference where he serves as Co-Chair. He was a charter member of the Business Rules Group (BRG) in the 1980s, and an editor of its Business Motivation Model (BMM) standard and the Business Rules Manifesto. He is active in OMG standards development, with core involvement in SBVR.

Ron holds a BA from Rice University and an MS in information science from Illinois Institute of Technology. Find Ron's blog on For more information about Ron visit Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

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