Posted by: Adam Deane | 16/03/2011

BPM and Business Rule Management

Business Rule ManagementDecision points, exceptions, policies and business rules.

Once, a critical element in the BPM solution.
BPM suites would boast about their ability to connect to third party policy applications.
Business Rules Management (BRM) and Policy Management used to be an important skill. A specialization.

Nowadays – blurred in the standard BPM offering.

Except for a handful of BRM vendors that offer very specific solutions to very specific industries – it seems that BRM is quietly fading away.
It might be just my perception. Maybe a lack of marketing on their part, but I hear less from BRM than I did a few years ago.

So BRM is left in the hands of BPM guys implementing workflows in the field.
They’ll use common sense, some trial and error, and come up with a nice solution.
But it will still lack the specialization of the BRM experts.
It’s the small things: proper testing, fitting the workflow rules into the bigger enterprise picture, thinking of maintenance, impact analysis.

The ACM vendors will say that adaptive paths are the correct solution, that no can ever have enough time to consider all possible exception paths in a process.
This might be true in some business processes, for some organisations, and might be perfect match for some solutions, but the majority of projects that I do – organisations are looking to lock down processes, enforce strict policies , ensure specific procedures. Expense approvals, for example, cannot have end-users deciding on routes – they need to be locked down. There are strict rules about number of approvers, level of approvers, and then there are strict rules about exceptions…

Like the small family-run shops and supermarkets: As BPM vendors grow and consolidate – the specialization expert vendors slowly disappear

Once Business Rule Management was a highly regarded expertise. Has it died away?


Responses

  1. Insightful post as always Adam. Regarding disintermediation – can the same happen to BPMS? As people look for more flexible processes that respond to context, will BPMS be likewise pushed down under Event / Interaction-driven Architectures?

    I agree that not all work calls for unstructured processes, but certainly more flexible processes would be welcomed by all. Events / Interaction-driven processes offer a bridge between structured BPMS and unstructured ACM. As you suggest with your supermarket analogy, the industry will evolve to the business need, not the other way around.

    • Hi Dave,

      Glad you liked the post.
      I have no problem with ACM. They serve a real business need. Just not in every situation.
      Trying to implement an adaptive content related process with BPM is like trying to implement a BRM solution with BPM.
      We can probably squeeze into the tight pants, but it won’t be comfortable.

      BPM will be around for years to come. (But we’ll probably give it another name…)

      Cheers,
      Adam

  2. Adam, there’s still a large part of BRM that never touches BPM, mostly built into various sorts of other systems ranging from straight-through transaction processing to CRM solutions, or even invoked stand-alone to help users make decisions based on input conditions.

    I’ve spoken about the cross-over between BRM and BPM for a few years now at the Business Rules Forum (now called Building Business Capability conference, and including a full track on BPM rather than just a sideline as it used to be). What I like to joke in my presentation is that someone from the BPM side will want to build the entire decision tree in the process model, whereas someone from the BRM side will want to build everything in the BRM and have a single-step process that just invokes the BRM. 🙂 The reality is that although there is a bit of a fuzzy line, there are some clear distinction between the decisions that should be in the process model (basic routing) versus those that should be in the BRM. If they’re in the BRM, then they should be created by a rules specialist, not just because they understand the BRM better, but because they presumably have a view into the enterprise portfolio of decision management, and can create rules with an eye to reuse across multiple consuming platforms, of which BPMS is only one.

  3. I think there is more than a grain of truth in Sandy’s joke.

    I believe one of the central issues is the complexity of modeling processes and rules in building an end-to-end scenario. With many of the solutions I have been involved in, to call the rules engine you must:

    1) Select an interface style: WSDL, POJO, EJB, etc.
    2) Marshall the process data into the interface
    3) Unmarshall the process data into the Rules interface
    4) Call the rules, etc. etc.

    All of this seems like programming heaven for the technical team. But this really raises bar of the mandatory technical skills of the folks doing the ‘modeling’. And if your rules solution requires a ‘fact server’ (i.e. RETE) with a separate fact loading steps the complexity increases even more. The vast majority of BPM customers obviously did not want to trouble with this and the lack of industry traction verifies this.

    Next, if you try to solve business problems with a hybrid approach, the boundaries seemed pretty arbitrary to the business analyst. The business analyst and SME’s could care less about what notations or language was implementing their logic as long as it was workable. Many of the rules methodologies are very heavy and difficult to derive benefits. The truth of this is borne out by the (relative) huge success of the graphical BPM tools. The same is not true of ‘Decision Modeling’ or ‘Fact Modeling’. The latter does not even have a fraction of a % of market penetration.

    The BPM/BRMS approach is not going to be realized until the technical boundaries between a BPM tool and business rules are removed. I think there could be big benefits to the BRMS, but process modeling and rules modeling needs to use the same process pool in a simple and effective manner. I do not want an interface to my right and left hand to make a clapping sound.


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