Monday, January 8, 2007

Ruling the Corporation - THE STATE OF THE BUSINESS RULES MARKET 2007

THE STATE OF THE BUSINESS RULES MARKET 2007
By Rolando Hernandez, CEO, BIZRULES. January 8, 2007

I've been thinking about what's ahead for the BR market in 2007. Here are some thoughts:
  1. More M&A consolidation in the business rule engine (BRE) market is coming. There are a few small vendors (new and existing) with unique and technology that could be very interesting to the larger players. 2006 saw Mindbox and Versata get acquired. Insession Technologies spun off Resolution EBS. See the 2007 BRE Family Tree for who the leading vendors are today and how they got there.
  2. Look for Microsoft to play a larger role in the BR market, one that helps legitimize the space for those that still don't get BR. Microsoft already has 2 BRE technologies embedded in larger offerings. Yet because it doesn't market these rule engines as separate products yet, they are still pretty much under the radar. One of their BREs is embedded in Vista, so by the end of 2007 thousands maybe millions of client desktops will have a BRE rule execution engine ready to fire rules.
  3. More small BRE vendors will partner with Microsoft and position their BRE engines as a powerful rule authoring tool, integrate their product with Microsoft BRE, and position MSFT BRE as the runtime rule engine. A couple of BRE vendors are already doing this. An interesting possibility.
  4. Look out for alliances between between enterprise architecture (EA) modeling tools and business rule management systems (BRMS) as customers demand more integration with modeling tools and BR tools. As the BR approach gets blessed and accepted by more and more IT shops, BR modeling with play a larger role.
  5. Customers moving to this new BR approach and technology will continue to create business rules center of excellence, as I predicted last year.
  6. Business Rule Engine (BRE) products will become more and more similar. Selecting the right engine will get harder and become more important as the products get more powerful.
  7. BRE sales people are still spending a lot time selling the idea and concept of BR, and wasting too much time looking for the business case to make the sale. Smart customers are already sold on the BR idea. They're not even wasting time putting together the "business case" for using a BRE. They realize they need a BRE and they need it now. A rulebase (rule engine), IT and the Business is quickly discovering, is now just as necessary as a database. So forget the business case for "why the customer needs a BRE". Let's talk instead about "why the customer should buy your BRE".
  8. Renewed focus on rule harvesting and rule development methodologies. At the end of the day if you don't know what your business rules are, or if you don't modernize your rules before storing them in a BRE, it won't matter what BRE you select.
  9. Some companies don't want to bother buying an (BRE) engine. They want to buy the whole car. Look for rule-based packages that OEM a BRE for specific decisioning and advising solutions to become available.
  10. Finally, what I think is the most powerful business rules trend of all: Question Answering. According to Matthew Glotzbach, head of products for Google Enterprise, "Question answering is the future of search". This "new" technology is really a nod back to the classic interactive question answering expert system. You've probably run a Microsoft Wizard to troubleshoot a hardware problem. With a BRE under the hood, and a new marketing label: Expert system, Wizard, whatever, you shall now be called question answering... The marketing gods make it so... well now it looks like the next generation of search will leverage the power of the underappreciated and misunderstood expert system. Fair Isaac came out with SmartForms last year - basically they added in the feature they took out when they went from expert system to business rule engine: the smart interactive question answer front end. Haley is doing the same thing. I'm beginning to realize that when these expert system vendors renamed themselves as business rule engine vendors, what they really did was take out the smart interactive question answer interface. You know, the one where depending on the user's answer, the rules determine the next question to ask the user. Microsoft is beta-testing Microsoft Live QnA. Google is working on QnA as well. BIZRULES is working on the Question Answering Smart Banner Ad. Expert systems are back! Vendors are going to jump on the bandwagon and call their FAQ products question answering solutions. The real QA software will have at least two attributes: interactive and intelligent. Don't be fooled: a static FAQ page is not a Question Answering solution.

James Taylor and friends at Fair Isaac have put together a great list of predictions for the business rules market for 2007 over here and here. I agree and like a lot of these predictions. The more predictions the better. Let's keep it moving, and have fun ruling your business in 2007!

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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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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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