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How do business analysts maintain business rules?

The business analyst is responsible for defining the business processes which will be supported and then gathering and organizing the business rules that will provide the foundation for the application planning process. This list of rules will typically be in the form of structured natural-language statements that clearly, completely, and concisely express the rules, facts, policies, and procedures that will be implemented.  Once these statements are clearly listed, the business analyst will work with the developers/architect to identify the objects (business data) which will be referenced by the rules. After the object model and the control flow for the rule project have been set up, the business analyst will write or modify rules using some kind of Rule Maintenance Application. This rule maintenance application should be:

  • Built in a zero-training user interface like a webpage
  • Restricted to terminology familiar to the business analysts
  • Controlled so the business analyst cannot break anything
  • Unique for each distinct group of analyst/business users with different roles
  • Auditable and controlled

There is more on this topic in my EDM blog

Doug Golden has commented on this post and I have some answers to his questions. I have summarizied his questions but you can read the full version in his comment.

No Business Rule Management tools exist for the business...There is no mature tool on the market that allows users to capture their rules, identify where the rule comes from (policy, law, edict, etc), identify who owns the rule, and identify the processes/ activities where the rule is invoked.

Somewhat true. For generic rules-as-business-records repositories, you need to look at tools like RuleExpress, and also more generic MetaObject Facility-based tools like Adaptive (which includes the Business Motivation Model tying rules to strategies and processes). However, you could also check into what the tools provide: for example Blaze Advisor provides a generic versioned and web-enabled repository capable of managing any unstructured text type, although normally this is used for executable rules and so is post-capture.

I want a tool to capture all my company’s terms, facts, and rules not as data points or objects to be consumed by an application, but as concepts and rules that the business can use, change, and understand.

Well I think this is actually a rare requirement outside of the specialist forums such as Business Rules Forum. Most of the growth in the rules market has come from rule management tools focused on automated rules. We do have had several Blaze Advisor customers who use the rule repository for rule documentation and Blaze Advisor 6 includes flexible metadata schemas, allowing text rules to be managed alongside and linked to executable rules. We also allowthe web interface to describe rules using standards such as SBVR. Mostly, however, the bang for the buck for a business seems to come from managing automated rules.

Why haven't the big rule engine vendors created an application to do that? Seems like a slam dunk!

Well, not really. Information management (like rule documentation) is more of a content management issue, whereas rule execution involves all sorts of performance and legacy connection constraints. The extensible meta-model in Blaze Advisor 6.0 is specifically designed to let you link executable rule artifacts to source rule documents in a content management system, for instance.

... once I have a repository of rules that help me to manage my business rules and to change rapidly using your handy dandy business tool, IT says "how can I use that repository to run your rules in real time?" I say "(Fit Vendor Name Here) has a rule engine that fits directly into my rule manager. All you need to do is map my terms to your data points." Done.

The main problem is that if your business rules are free text descriptions, then converting these to some business process is non-trivial. Indeed, it is safe to say today that it is impossible without manual intervention. Instead, you get IT to take some of your documented rules and create design patterns (templates) and custom web pages (for your natural language interface) and create an application that stores not only the text (from the business perspective) but at the same time the executable rules. Not only is this simpler, satisfies business and IT, but it works and we have customers doing it today.

Second Issue: Supposition that Rules Engines allows business ownership of rules is FALSE. I think a better way of putting this is that Rules Engines can allow IT to “empower" the business.

Again I agree somewhat. Business rule management systems are not sufficient to allow complete business ownership, but they go along way. One UK customer was reporting to us how their IT staff have not been involved in their rule application, despite numerous rule changes, for over 2.5 years. Sure, there is an initial involvement by IT, but that is because they are setting up an executable application.

I think that once a Business Rules Vendor creates a tool that is truly made for the business, it will go along way in increasing their market share... Today, tools only exist that deliver the rules for the purpose of IT/IT application consumption.

Well we think Rule Management tools like Blaze Advisor do provide such value to businesses. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be buying and using them in increasing numbers. By and large the business drives Blaze Advisor, and I suspect most other rules vendors, purchases.

HTH. Thanks to Paul Vincent for help with answering. Any errors are my own.

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