Thursday, October 19, 2006

Microsoft Rules 1.0 for MS Office

I discovered David Strommer's blog about .Net and Enterprise Architecture recently.

One post caught my eye, Microsoft Rules 1.0 for MS Office, which is about a story called Rules 1.0 that I wrote about Rulebase Management Systems. David's quote is spot on:
"One of the most difficult challenges of any application development effort is accuratly capturing the business processes and rules." - - David Strommer

Well said. Thanks David.

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Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Productivity of the Mind

In a recent issue of Chief Executive* magazine, Editor in Chief J.P. Donlon had this to say about the value of knowledge management:
The single greatest challenge facing CEOs is to raise the productivity of knowledge throughout the enterprise. It is an economic truth that real earnings and real incomes cannot be higher than productivity for any length of time. And knowledge and insight into customer behavior—as opposed to mere information—is the fuel that propels innovativeness.

Wow! I am glad to see an influential business magazine make the point that knowledge, not "mere" information, is the key to productivity, earnings, and incomes. This is exactly what CEOs need to know, and chances are they've read this*. I'm not sure I would say that managing knowledge and raising the productivity of knowledge is the single greatest challenge facing CEOs, but I would certainly say that it is among the top challenges CEOs face. I've been making a similar point for years, that:


Real and lasting competitive edge comes from managing knowledge, not just managing information.

I also like J.P. Donlon's analogy, but I'd like to take it one step further:

If knowledge is the fuel that propels innovativeness, then inference engines and rule engines are the engines that burn the fuel, automate the knowledge, and fire the rules that drive the business.

Rule engines/inference engines are the most effective and most efficient ways to automate knowledge and business rules. Is there any doubt left that every enterprise that wants to compete and innovate and win in today's knowledge-based economy needs a rule engine/inference engine?


* About Chief Executive
Chief Executive is the only magazine written strictly for CEOs and their peers. As the leading source of intelligence for and about CEOs, it provides ideas, strategies and tactics for top executive leaders seeking to build more effective organizations... The readers of Chief Executive include the world's most influential leaders - the CEOs of major corporations around the globe...

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Rules 1.0

Executives used to have secretaries. Now they have Word.

Companies used to have IT/Finance modelers to do "what if" analysis. Now they have Excel.

Newspapers used to have strippers (no not that kind!) that did page layout by hand. Now they have PageMaker.

In the early days of the Web, you needed a Webmaster to create your website. Now you have FrontPage.

What's missing today in the business rules market is a tool that lets business executives write their own rules. Without IT, without programming, and maybe even without automation. Just a tool like Word (for textual rules), Excel (for decision tables), or even Visio (for decision trees) that simply lets me document "logical business rules". And then press File, Save as... "billing rules model 1.0", or "audit rules 1.0", etc. That's what I want to be able to do.

Sure, I'd like to push a button and have that logical rule model artifact go into a business rules repository. Great. If I could push another button and have my logical rule model generate code for whatever Business Rule Engine I'd like to target, now we're talking business rules.

That is the promise of business rules. I want to create a logical rule model, select my technology (i.e. HaleyRules, ILOG, PegaRULES, Versata, Fair Isaac Blaze Advisor, CA AION, Corticon, OpenRules, etc.) and then press GO. I want the tool to transform my logical business rule model into a physical business rule model. Then I want to compile and run.

That sounds farfetched, but I think it's only a year or two away. By the way, this is the same thing that database people do for a living. ERWin anyone? Create a logical database model, select your target physical databse model technology (i.e. SQLServer, DB2, INGRES, etc.), then press GO. This approach works for databases. It is inevitable that this approach will one day soon work for rulebases.

Let's start by calling the BRMS (business rule management system) a RBMS (rulebase management system) instead. Then we should call the business rules repository the rulebase. Business people will find it much easier to understand rulebases if they can compare it to the familiar database analogy.

We'll still need industrial strength rulebases like the ones I mentioned above. But we'll also need a "lite" rulebase software tool for business executives. Think Word, Excel, Visio.... or Access instead of SQLServer...

What if, or when will Microsoft or some other BRE vendor releases Rules 1.0? How about Microsoft Rules 1.0.? Maybe part of Office? What if executives finally have a tool on their desktop to write the rules? A tool that understands IF and THEN and ELSE and MUST and ONLY IF and MUST NOT etc.

I think a lot of business people have been led to believe that that's what business rules will mean to them. And their expectations are that the rule tool will be as easy to use as Excel or Word. I've noticed more and more companies approving business rule projects where the business people have the expectation that the business rules tool is something they can fire up on their PC... as easily as they do Word or Excel.

Business Rule Engine software products are clearly awesome productivity tools for programmers. But only a few of them could be considered tools for executives. We need to think of the BRE as the tool for IT developers and for rule execution, and the logical rule modeling tool I described above as the rule documentation tool for business executives.

I hope there are some companies working on this idea of a logical rules modeling tool that generates code for my BRE tool of choice.

Stay tuned... What do you think? Does Microsoft Rule? Anyone else?

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Thursday, September 8, 2005

Critical Challenges Facing Business and IT Today

I was looking through some presentations I gave five years ago and found a list of critical challenges facing Business and IT. These problems could be solved using a business rules approach and BR technology. I'm afraid many companies that haven't climbed aboard the business rules train still face many of these challenges today.

Now that I'm blogging, I thought it would be a good idea to "externalize" this list and make it available on the Web. I'd like to keep adding to this list over time. And of course I welcome your suggestions or additions.

Critical Challenges Facing Business Today

  • Compliance with external regulations/laws and with internal policies/rules
  • Ability to change business rules instantly
  • Managing knowledge
  • Managing business rules
  • Re-engineering and simplifying business rules and business processes
  • Product development time to market
  • Application development time to market

Critical Challenges Facing IT Today

  • Dealing with rapid business change and increasing complexity
  • Time to market
  • Increasingly complex business rules
  • Changing or adding business logic can break existing logic
  • Business rules aren't properly documented
  • Business logic duplicated across systems
  • Building flexible systems that can support unknown future requirements.
  • Many systems today limit what the business can do
  • We don’t know the rules in our systems, yet these systems run the business
  • Existing rules may actually be inherited system constraints
  • Different IT units document business rules differently, if at all
  • Business people speak business rules, yet IT speaks data and code
  • Managing knowledge, especially business rules

The business rules approach and business rules technology can help solve each of these problems.

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Friday, June 10, 2005

It's Too Good to be True

A short time ago one of our Knowledge Engineers went to a Business Rule Engine software vendor training course with IT People and Business People from one our clients.

Surprise! The client's business people loved the rule engine software (BRE #1) because they could write rules in an English-like language. The client's IT people didn't like it as much because they could write rules in an English-like language. It had something to do with, uh, you know, hey, if we actually used this thing we wouldn't need some of our IT business analysts because the tool is so good that the Subject Matter Experts / Domain Experts could author the rules themselves without IT Business Analysts... And if we ever figured how to really use this engine, we may not need some of our IT Programmers either... (See: "the usual suspects")

So, the client decided to use another BRE software package (BRE #2) that:
  • Required the larger IT infrastructure investment and ongoing IT support that this client was used to

  • Didn't have as "English-like" a language. Because it was more like a typical "programming language", it would be eaiser to the IT People to learn

  • The rules were written in a "Java-like" language that IT People understood better
BRE #2 tool enabled Business People to write their own rules just like BRE #1. It opened up some of their simpler rules so they could be authored by Business People instead of IT Programmers. The more complex rules will still require IT assistance. The Business People believe they will be able to write most of the rules themselves (without IT) using this powerful tool. The IT People see it diferently - they believe that the most of the rules will require some IT support, or that the Business People will call and ask IT to write the rules for them. Time will tell how this plays out.

So, for now both the Business and IT are happy. BRE tool vendor #2 is happy. BRE tool vendor #1 is not - They lost this sale because their tool was too good to be true.

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What's wrong with Business Rule Engines and Expert Systems?

One of the biggest obstacles we face in the Business Rule Management industry is that rule engine/expert system software tools are "that good".


  • Some companies just can't believe all the "claims" that we (the BR software vendors and BR consulting firms) make, so they go away and don't buy. They think our "claims" are "hype".

  • Some companies do believe all the claims and immediately see the power and value that Business Rule Engines and Expert Systems can add. Then the IT side realizes that "business people writing rules" really means "IT people don't have to". So all too often some IT People raise technology issues and concerns such as Top 10 Reasons Why We Should Not Manage Business Rules or use Business Rule Engines that slow down or derail the whole effort.

  • Some companies that have figured out how to "do rules right" and really leverage BRE/ES technology get so much value out of it that they just don't want to talk about it. Some clients don't want to stake a "claim" - - they prefer to stay under the radar and keep firing away (no pun intended) at their competition. If you had a secret competitive edge, would you tell your competition? (See: "Expert systems didn't really go away. They went undercover.")

So even though there are lots of BRE software vendors and a few visionary niche methodology/consulting vendors that Gartner calls "Satellite Methodology Vendors" like BIZRULES.COM (shameless plug!), one of the challenges we face is that our solutions and technologies are "so good" that clients won't tell, and potential clients won't believe.

For 20 years, people in this industry have been trying to solve this problem. I wish I knew the answer.

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