Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Rules are a Paradigm Shift and the ROI is 10 to 1, according to many Business Rules Forum 2005 attendees in Orlando

(See photos)

I just got back from the 8th International Business Rules Forum, which was held in Orlando last week. I ran into many old friends and met a lot of people who were there for the first time. Also had a chance to hear John Zachman and meet him in person, thanks to my friend Ronald G. Ross (Conference Co-Chair) who introduced us after John's classic presentation.

There were a number of Fortune 500 firms there for the first time, and, as usual, insurance/financial services companies represented the biggest group of attendees.

You could feel the excitement in the air as people shared their success stories about getting buy-in from the business, and war stories about getting IT on-board. Most if not all of the presenters shared lessons learned and best practices to help others avoid similar mistakes.

In the first BRF conference that I attended, Atlanta 2000, I remember many people asking "What are business rules and business rule engines?"

By BRF 2003 in Nashville, people were asking "What do I do with business rules and business rule engines?"

This year at BRF 2005 Orlando, people were asking "How can I leverage the power of rules and rule engines throughout the rest of my organization?"

That says it all. We have finally reached the point where rules have proven themselves beyond a doubt to add tremendous value to the business and to IT. This year many clients stepped forward and presented their own case studies.

There are still a few organizations that don't get rules. Yet even people in those companies get rules.

I met a programmer/analyst who told me he was "on vacation" at the conference. What he meant was that his employer refused to send him to the conference because they don't believe in rules. He is in IT, and he doesn't want to miss the boat when it comes to business rules. He sees rules as the next leap in technology, and he doesn't want to get left behind. So he took vacation days and paid the $1,500 admission plus travel/lodging to get up to speed. He is very smart and visionary - hopefully his employer will listen to him when he returns and talks about the power of rules. When someone goes to that length to attend a conference, something good is happening there.

Most of the people I met had experienced very positive results implementing business rules into their organization. Everybody I talked to seemed to agree that the ROI is much better than two to one, that it's more like ten times better. My presentation The Knowledge-Based 21st Century Enteprise included case studies on Sun Microsystems and a Fortune 10 company, and they reported 10 to 1 ROI.

Other case studies in my presentation included CitiStreet, AMEX, DuPont, Mobil Oil, the Canada Social Security System, and the US IRS. I also discussed my ideas on how expert systems and business rule are related (especially in the rule harvesting/knowledge acquisition stage), how they can be integrated, and how the BIZRULES VISION Knowledge Engineering methodology can be used to design/build both knowledge-based expert systems and rule-based business rule management systems.

In most cases, the business side was driving the change to business rules and pulling in IT. In other cases, IT was the visionary group leading the way and pushing the business to manage and automate the rules.

Not surprisingly, there were a few customers who already bought a rule engine but were just beginning to explore how to use it.

The IRS presented their latest success stories about a few projects, including the End to End project, that I'd like to write more about later. My friends Terry Moriarty (Conference Co-Chair) and Marty Saulenas have been working on some of the IRS projects recently so I know they are in good hands up there. The IRS still doesn't have a rule engine for CADE, but they are methodically moving in the right direction. When that project "goes", I think it will become a classic case study that helps move business rules to the next level.

Decision trees have clearly become one of the standard ways to document business rules. Many of the BRE rule authoring tools now support decision trees. I remember way back in BRF2000... when I said in my presentation that decision trees, decision tables, and textual are the three ways to write rules, a few people laughed and were skeptical that decision trees were that useful for rules. In my experience working closely with SMEs from all over the world, I have observed that most SMEs "visualize" rules as either decision trees or decision tables. Now that the BRE software vendors promote their decision tree rule editors, the argument of whether decision trees make sense for business rules has been put to rest.

If there is still any doubt, there was even a presentation by Jan Vanthienen, Professor in Business Information Systems, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium titled "Decision Table Experiences in Business Rules and Business Processes: Building Agility"

There was also a lot of talk about SOA and using that as a means to deploy rules-based applications.

The other big topic was about the Semantic Web and how it helps organize the ontology for business rules applications.

And now As I'm going through the mail, I just noticed the Nov. 1, 2005 issue of Intelligent Enterprise on my desk and a business rules article right there on the cover page: "IT Takes a Back Seat: When Business Users Should Drive Rules-Based Apps".

The article is actually called "Business Makes the Rules: Vendors promise to put business staff in charge of rules, but do you really want users messing with mission-critical apps? Here's how four firms are balancing responsibilities for rules," by Michael P. Voelker.

What great timing. This issue of whether business people should actually change the rules was another frequently asked question last week.

I think the mainstream IT media did a pretty good job in 2005 as they began to cover the business rules story. Now that customers seem more willing to talk about their success stories and case studies, I suspect we're going to be reading a lot more about business rules next year.

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