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Business Rules Management

Understanding English promotes better policies and requirements

Capturing some policies from a publication by the Health and Human Services department recently turned up the following….
It’s probably the case that there are more specific lists than just “some list” or “any list”, as suggested below.
This is a good thing about applying deep natural language understanding to policy statements.  It helps you say precisely what you mean, even if you are not using a rule or logic engine, but just trying to articulate your policies or requirements clearly and precisely.

HHS on expedited review

Logic from the English of Science, Government, and Business

Our software is translating even long and complicated sentences from regulations to textbooks into formal logic (i.e,, not necessarily first-order logic, but more general predicate calculus).   As you can see below, we can translate this understanding into various logical formalisms including defeasible first-order logic, which we are applying in Vulcan’s Project Halo.  This includes classical first-order logic and related standards such as RIF or SBVR, as well as building or extending an ontology or description logic (e.g., OWL-DL).

We’re excited about these capabilities in various applications, such as in advancing science and education at Vulcan and formally understanding, analyzing and automating policy and regulations in enterprises.

English translated into predicate calculus

English translated into predicate calculus

a sentence understood by Automata

an unambiguously, formally understood sentence


English translated into SILK and Prolog

English translated into SILK and Prolog

What could be more strategic than process or decision management?

The folks from Knowledge Partners have a post that I found thanks to Sandy Kemsley, whose blog often provides good pointers.  This article talks about the decision perspective on business rules.  It makes some good points, on which I would like to elaborate albeit at a more semantic or knowledge-level.

Every language has three kinds of statements: questions, statements, and commands.   There are also some peripheral types, such as exclamations (Yikes!), but in business processes and decisions only declarative and imperative sentences matter.

From a process- or decision-oriented perspective, decisions are always phrased as imperative sentences.  Otherwise, the statements reflected in any business process, whether you are using BPMN or a BRMS, are declarative sentences.

Decisions are imperative sentences because they state an action to be taken.  For example, decline a loan or offer a discount.  It’s really pretty simple.  A decision is an action.  Rules that don’t take actions are statements of truth.  Such declarative statements of truth are perfect for formal logic, logic programming, and semantic technologies.  It’s the action that requires the production rule technology that dominates the market for and applications of rules.

The authors of the aforementioned article use the following diagram to explain the benefits of the decision-oriented approach in simplifying business processes:

The impact of rules on business process complexity

The impact is very simple.  If you eliminate how you reach decisions from the flow that you diagram in BPMN things get simpler.  It’s really as simple as realizing that you have removed all the “if” parts (i.e., the antecedents) of the rule logic from the flow chart.

So who in their right mind would use a business process tool to express any business logic? (more…)

Agile decision services without XML details

Externalizing enterprise decision management using service-oriented architecture orchestrated by business process management makes increases agility and allows continuous performance improvement, but…

How do you implement the rules of EDM in an SOA decision service?  (more…)

Externalization of rules and SOA is important – for now

James Taylor’s notes on his lunch with Sandy Carter of IBM and the CEO of Ilog prompted me to write this.  Part of the conversation concerned the appeal of SOA and rules to business users.  Speaking as a former vendor, we all want business people to appreciate our technology.  We earn more if they do.  They say to IT “we want SOA” or “we want rules” and our sale not only becomes easier, it becomes more valuable.  So we try to convince the business that they are service-oriented, so they should use SOA.  Or we tell the business that they have (and make) rules, so they should use (and manage their own) rules.   And rules advocates embrace and enhance the SOA value proposition saying that combined, you get the best of both worlds.  This is almost precisely the decision management appeal.  Externalize your decisions as services and externalize rules from those services for increased agility in decision making.   This is an accurate and appropriate perspective for point decision making.  But it doesn’t cover the bigger picture that strategic business people consider, which includes governance and compliance. 

Nonetheless,

Effective SOA and business rules have one requirement (or benefit) in common: externalization.  

The externalization of services from applications (more…)

CEP crossing the chasm into BPM by way of BRMS

Complex event processing (CEP) software handles many low-level events to recognize a high-level event that triggers a business process.  Since many business processes do not consider low-level data events, BPM may not seem to need event processing.  On the other hand, event processing would not be relevant at all if it did not occasionally trigger a business process or decision.  In other words, it appears that:

  • CEP requires BPM but
  • BPM does not require CEP

The first point is market limiting for CEP vendors.  Fortunately for CEP vendors, however, most BPM does require event-processing, however complex.  In fact, event processing is perhaps the greatest weakness of current BPM systems (BPMS) and business rules management systems (BRMS), as discussed further below. (more…)

Agile Business Rules Management Requires Methodology

Don’t miss the great post about his and Ilog’s take on rule and decision management methodologies by James Taylor today (available here). 

Here’s the bottom line:

  1. Focus on what the system does or decides.
    • Focus on the actions taken during a business process and the decisions that govern them and the deductions that they rely on.
    • In priority order, focus on actions, then decisions, then deductions.
  2. Don’t expect to automate every nuance of an evolving business process on day one – iterate.
    • Iteratively elaborate and refine the conditions and exceptions under which
      • actions show be taken,
      • decisions are appropriate, and
      • deductions hold true

Another way of summing this up is:

Try not to use the word “then” in your rules!

Do check out the Ilog methodology as well as the one I developed for Haley that is available here.  The key thing (more…)

Rules are not enough. Knowledge is core to reuse.

James Taylor’s blog today on rules being core to BPM and SOA in which he discussed reuse had a particularly strong impact on me following a trip yesterday.  During a meeting with the insurance and retail banking practice leaders at a large consulting firm, we looked for synnergies between applications related to investment and applications related to risk.  Of course, during that conversation, we discussed whether operational rules could be usefully shared across these currently siloed areas, but we landed up discussing what they had in common in terms of business concepts, definitions, and fundamental truths or enterprise wide governance.  It was clear to us that this was the most fruitful area to develop core, reusable knowledge assets.

In his post, James agrees with the Butler Group’s statement:

Possibly the most important aspect of a rules repository, certainly in respect of the stated promise of BPM, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), and BRMS, is the ability for the developer to re-use rules within multiple process deployments.

I have several problems with this statement: (more…)

Understanding events and processes takes time

We have been teaching a computer to answer questions like, “How much did IBM’s earnings change last quarter?”  It takes a fair bit of knowledge, including how to understand English, to answer this question.  But teaching it what a “quarter” is brought back memories of debates with some former CMU colleagues about what units are and how to model time.  Since quite a few people ask me for help with knowledge engineering and ontological matters, I thought some might be interested in parts of those debates.As you will see, a strong upper ontology of common knowledge is required to understand common business knowledge.  Leveraging such an ontology is the only way to deliver business rules for under $50.

Sentences like “do something if more than a number of possibly related things have happened within a timeframe of something else happening” or “do something if nothing happens within a timeframe following something happening” are extremely common in business process management (BPM), complex event processing (CEP), and workflow.  With a sense of time, a business rules management system (BRMS) can support BPM, CEP, and workflow applications almost trivially.  Without a sense of time, most BRMS force users to perform computations.

For example, without a sense of time and an infrastructure that supports it, the sentence “call a customer if no response is received within 30 days of notifying the customer of a delinquency” has to be transformed into something like “if a notice is mailed on a date and the notice is a delinquency and the date of notification has a day number then compute the date for checking by adding 30 to the day number and check for a response to the delinquency notice on the date for checking”.  The checking on a date for a response to a notice must also be implemented as a database (or persistent queue) of events to be polled or triggered by application code.  Then a second rule is required to implement the check, as in “if checking whether a response has been received to a notice and the notice was given on a date of notice and the notice was given to a customer and there exists no record of communication with the customer since the date of notice then call the customer”.  (Note that this is actually how most BRMS products would implement this.  The natural language approach I prefer handles the original sentence.)

The discussion here reflects the general structure and content that a usable ontology for business process management requires.  Most users of business rules management tools will find the need to understand and engineer this discussion in their tool of choice.  As my Haley Systems customers know, much of this is reflected in Authority’s built-in ontology and English vocabulary, but quite a few of the points discussed here reflect improvements, especially concerning the confusion between units and amounts.

As you will see the discussion takes careful thinking.  Some readers may find it onerous.  If at any time you have had enough (or if you simply cannot take anymore!), please skip to the end and decide whether to fill in the conclusions by revisiting the body.

(more…)

The $50 Business Rule

Work on acquiring knowledge about science has estimated the cost of encoding knowledge in question answering or problem solving systems at $10,000 per page of relevant textbooks. Regrettably, such estimates are also consistent with the commercial experience of many business rules adopters. The cost of capturing and automating hundreds or thousands of business rules is typically several hundred dollars per rule. The labor costs alone for a implementing several hundred rules too often exceed $100,000.

The fact that most rule adopters face costs exceeding $200 per rule is even more discouraging when this cost does not include the cost of eliciting or harvesting functional requirements or policies but is just the cost of translating such content into the more technical expressions understood by business rules management systems (BRMS) or business rule engines (BRE).

I recommend against adopting any business rule approach that cannot limit the cost of automating elicited or harvested content to less than $100 per rule given a few hundred rules. In fact, Automata provides fixed price services consistent with the following graph using an approach similar to the one I developed at Haley Systems.

Cost per Harvested or Elicited Rule

(more…)