Business Rules Management for Business Processes: From Modeling to Deployment

Business Rules Management for Business Processes: From Modeling to Deployment

Marwane El Kharbili (IDS Scheer AG, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-402-6.ch023
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The power of rule-based solutions has been demonstrated over a wide range of domains and a number of industrial-scale solutions and business rules have now proven their usability in complex real world scenarios. But the use of business rules in conjunction with business process management is still a young research field. Business process management (BPM) is a new paradigm for companies to carry out their value-creating activities. Bringing agility and flexibility to business process management is one of the most pressing challenges we are facing today. In this chapter, we make the case for rule-enabled BPM by motivating the need for introducing business rules in BPM and studying the possible advantages of combining business rule management (BRM) and BPM techniques. A discussion of possible uses of business rules (BRs) in business processes (BPs) is made. Furthermore, we also propose a lifecycle for BPM-oriented business rule management, and illustrate this using a business scenario. Hence, the aim of this chapter is to provide readers with insights into issues conceptual BRM applied to BPM in a business context, not from a formal, but from a methodological point of view.
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Introduction And Motivation

When speaking about artificial intelligence, most of us would think about some intelligent dog-robot playing with their children or an autonomous shop assistant giving you advice to find the best shoe for you. Needless to say such visions are more likely to be found in science fiction book than on reports of enterprise management specialists. However, business people are still talking about artificial intelligence in the enterprise. Well how then? This is what we will further discuss in this chapter by motivating the use of a business rules-oriented approach to business process management.

BPM is a discipline encompassing among others, the organization, modeling and implementation of business processes. Business processes capture the logic behind the business activities of companies. These companies have to react to changes in the market because each change requires changes to the business, in order to keep it aligned with enterprise goals. Moreover, this has to be done in a cost-effective way. Another aspect is the ability of quickly switching strategies to adapt to new enterprise goals. Companies grow with their business and business processes have to be extended while kept efficient. This agility is a considerable advantage in competitive markets. As corporations turn towards a business process-oriented vision of their activities, agility and flexibility requirements towards the business rely on the degree to which these requirements are fulfilled by the design of business processes.

Imagine a shoe reseller that has a series of special offers and reductions on the price of the shoes it sells, depending on the time of the year, on seasons and on special celebrations. This shoe reseller wants to introduce new reduced prices for a certain set of shoe models for customers purchasing these shoes in the next 3 days, and with an additional bonus reduction for purchases of more than a pair of shoes. If this reseller implements this offer by “hard-modeling” it directly in his business processes, it generates additional implementation costs for an action that will only last some days. It may even be that the costs of this implementation surpass the benefits generated by this action. One can only imagine what the situation would be for a regional or nation-wide reseller, introducing such complexity in its business with a huge number of offers. This small example shows us what complexity can reside in business processes. For this kind of business rules embedded in the business processes, a business rules approach seems most promising.

Another aspect impacting business processes are regulatory compliance and governance issues. Companies are now obliged to comply with laws and regulations, emulating from a number of governmental bodies and standardization bodies, or simply have to ensure their business is running with respect to guidelines they have defined in other to implement a certain strategy. For example, in the financial sector, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, SOX (2002), requires companies to define controls on their financial reporting. There are also numerous examples of domain-dependent regulations coming from the banking such as Basel (2004), health HIPAA (2006), or security management (ISO17799, 2008); ISO27002, 2008) sectors. There are several ways of achieving this, such as using internal controls or policies El Kharbili (2008). Business rule themselves are one very intuitive way of implementing policies.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Business Process (BP): in the Merriam-Webster dictionary (see endnote 10), a process is defined as “a series of actions or operations conducing to an end; […] a continuous operation or treatment especially in manufacture”. Business processes have existed as long as businesses have existed. In research, the term comes from two converging directions: research on business economics and research on computer science. Business process refers to the organization of value creating business activities.

Ruleflow: is a model used for modeling complex rules, which must be expressed in terms of flows. A Ruleflow can be seen as a business process where the activities are all sets of business rules. Using Ruleflows makes the modeling of complex control flows of business rule execution possible. Of course, modeling Ruleflows relies on modeling Rulesheets, since each Ruleflow activity is in fact specified by a Rulesheet.

Ruletest: is a model allowing the simulation of business rules using business scenarios. Whereas Rulesheets allow testing the efficiency of modeled business rules, Ruletests allow testing the effectivity of business rules. This means that Ruletests are used in order to check whether the considered business rules really generate decisions as the business expects it. This is also called rule validation.

Rules Engine (RE): is a framework capable of interpreting business rules. Rule engines usually use forward chaining, backward chaining or both in order to infer on facts, rules and predicated and determine which are applicable. Rule engines are the components of a BRMS that are responsible for the consistency of the business rules base, the simulation of business rules, the inference on business rules. In concrete, rule engines are the core of any BRMS and are the element capable of taking decisions.

Business Rule Management System (BRMS): is a system responsible for supporting a business rule management lifecycle. BRMS allow for the modeling of rules, for keeping the consistency of the rules base, for providing components for deploying rules. BRMS contain necessary graphical user interfaces to allow the capture of business rules. A BRMS usually contains numerous interfaces to external systems in order to allow using the business rules productively. In the case of BPM, a BRMS is the element responsible for managing business rules.

Vocabulary: is the commonly agreed on representation of the business aspects relevant for the modeling of rules. A vocabulary is formed of entities and relationships, and can be directly created from or mapped to elements of existing data models. An equivalent to vocabulary usually found in literature about business rules are terms and facts.

Rulesheet: is a model allowing the definition of business rules in the form of a decision table. A Rulesheet contains rule statements that are linked to elements of the vocabulary the rule is built on. A Rulesheet is thus an aggregation of business rules relating to a certain aspect of the business and operating on a business vocabulary. In a BPMS, business process artifacts are annotated with Rulesheets and hence, the link between business processes and business rules is created. Rulesheets offers necessary functionalities for rule verification.

Business Rule Management (BRM): is the discipline comprehending gathering, auditing, modeling, documentation, organization, communication, implementation, testing, publishing, deployment, enforcement and controlling of business rules throughout the company.

Business Rule (BR): is the logic that expresses decision patterns, guidelines or constraints on business aspects. Here, “business aspects” refers to all aspects of companies which are of relevance for the rules. Typically in business process management, “business aspects” are business processes, value chains, organizational charts, resource models and enterprise architecture elements.

Business Process Management (BPM): The term is used to appoint the branch of information systems that studies IT techniques and methods that support business processes. It is an evolution of workflow management (WFM) and relies on formal methods and languages for modeling all business related aspects of processes. As shortly stated in Aalst (2003), BPM “includes methods, techniques, and tools to support the design, enactment, management, and analysis of operational business processes”. BPM also includes by extension other related and sub-disciplines of BPM such as Business Activity Monitoring (BAM), Business Process Controlling (BPC) and Business Process Intelligence (BPI).

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