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Business Rules Management

Deep QA

Our efforts at acquiring deep knowledge from a college biology text have enabled us to answer a number of questions that are beyond what has been previously demonstrated.

For example, we’re answering questions like:

  1. Are the passage ways provided by channel proteins hydrophilic or hydrophobic?
  2. Will a blood cell in a hypertonic environment burst?
  3. If a Paramecium swims from a hypotonic environment to an isotonic environment, will its contractile vacuole become more active?

A couple of these are at higher levels on the Bloom scale of cognitive skills than Watson can reach (which is significantly higher than search engines).

As some other posts have shown in images, we can translate completely natural sentences into formal logic.  We actually do the reasoning using Vulcan’s SILK, which has great capabilities, including defeasibility.  We can also output to RIF or SBVR, but the temporal aspects and various things such as modality and the need for defeasibility favor SILK or Cyc for the best reasoning and QA performance.

One thing in particular is worth noting:  this approach does better with causality and temporal logic than is typically considered by most controlled natural language systems, whether they are translating to a business rules engine or a logic formalism, such as first order or description logic.  The approach promises better application development and knowledge management capabilities for more of the business process management and complex event processing markets.

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

Event-centricity driving TIBCO

The call transcript from TIBCO’s Dec 21 review of Q4 results is great reading.  Starting from a simple Rete Algorithm and the insightful acquisition of Spotfire, TIBCO has transformed itself from a technical middleware vendor to a promising enterprise platform.

TIBCO has a long way to go in making its business optimization offerings less technical, but for those that can tolerate less alignment between IT and the business than may be ideal, TIBCO is leading the way in integrating technical agility with business visibility.

It will be tough for Oracle or IBM or SAP to close the gap with what TIBCO has.  Don’t be surprised if rule-based event-driven business processing drives the acquisition of TIBCO by one of these over the next two years.  The growth rate certainly justifies it!  And it won’t stop.

RulesFest 2011 keynote

The slides for my keynote at RuleFest 2011 are here.

Excellent presentations on complex event processing by Paul Vincent of TIBCO and Mauricio Salatano who showed simple, effective integration of events and rules using Drools.  Mauricio’s was a good demo and Paul’s slides are worth perusing once they go on-line.  (Some comments from Carlos about Paul’s, Mauricio’s,  and my presentations are here, here and here, FYI.)

Christian St. Marie and Hugues Citeau each of Ilog (IBM) on improving RIF support in JRules and the worthy ONTORULE project, respectively.  Both presentations confirm the gulf between production rules and sufficient logical expressiveness to support natural language or natural logic knowledge management, but IBM is clearly aware of  and trying to address the challenges raised in my presentation.

Rules vs. applications of knowledge

I was just asked for some background on business rules and the major players, preferably in the form of videos. The request came in by email, so I didn’t have the opportunity to immediately ask “why”.   Below I give some specific and direct responses, but first a few thoughts about clarifying objectives.

I don’t know of any video that is particularly good from an executive overview standpoint concerning “business rules” or even “decision management” let alone “management of active knowledge”.    My recommendation is to clarify the objective before drilling into “business rules”, which is a technical perspective.  What is it that you are trying to accomplish?  Most abstractly, it could be to manage and improve performance of an activity or an organization.  That kind of answer or focus is the right place to start and then work backwards to the technical approach rather than start with an inadequately conceived technical need.  This is one of the major problems with business rules as an independent market or product line.

Learning from Enterprise Decision Management

While at Fair Isaac, James Taylor saw this clearly.  He articulated the enterprise decision management (EDM) and positioned the business rules capability Fair Isaac acquired with Blaze Software in that space.  That is, more as a strategic objective than as a tool or technology.  This is an example of the proper way to think about business rules.

The decision management perspective was also narrowly focused on point decision making (e.g., using rules) but James and others (e.g., John Lucker of Deloitte) have appropriately expanded the strategy of decision management to include analytics, which produce and inform decision making (i.e., business rules), into a continuous process not of point decision making, but more closed-loop, continuous process improvement.  Over recent years, this has evolved into the broader market of performance management, which also includes performance optimization.

The key thing to consider when considering inquiries about “the applications and market for business rules” is the applications of knowledge.  The “knowledge engineering” community is often too focused on the sources of knowledge.  Focusing on sources rather than opportunities and benefits is a big part of why the business rules market has been subsumed into the business process management market, which is small in comparison to the business intelligence market, the fastest growing segment of which is performance management.

Semantic enterprise performance optimization checklist:

Here’s a checklist to consider when framing your considerations of strategies and tactics that might involve business rules technology:

  1. What knowledge (including policies, regulations, objectives, goals) is involved?
  2. What knowledge is superficial (i.e., derived from or approximations of) versus deeper knowledge?
  3. Will you capture the motivation for a decision rather than how that decision is made using rules?
  4. How will the performance  of your decision management or governance system be evaluated?
  5. Is the knowledge involved in evaluating such performance part of the knowledge that you will capture and management?
  6. How does the manner of evaluation relate to goals and objectives and over what time frames?
  7. Is the knowledge about goals and objectives time frames part of the knowledge to be managed?
  8. Are your decisions rigidly governed in every aspect or do you need the business process to include experimentation and optimization?

Most business rules efforts are focused on contexts so narrow that they are reduced to technical buying criteria without much or any consideration of the above.  That is, most business rule efforts do not even cover point 1 above.  Few reach bullet 2 and only strategic thinkers get to the third.

Specific recommendations for the naive question:

So I went off looking for videos…  You can find some on technical matters involving IBM/Ilog but I didn’t find any good videos from IBM at the business strategy level which concerned knowledge-based process/decision management/governance, which surprised.

A video from the vendors of Visual Rules touches on many of the traditional buying points that IT people typically formulate before evaluating vendors (here).

Although it did not respond to the inquiry, I sent along this video of James’ since it touches on so many of the aspects beyond business rules that are increasingly in vogue, even if it does not go far enough towards things like the business motivation model and the market for performance management, imo.

And for a very thorough background in the form of an analyst presentation that is consistent with all of the above, John Rymer of Forrester is most thorough in the two longer presentations that are here and there.

Please send me any other content that you would recommend!

Paul

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…)

In the names of CEP and BPM

Have you heard the one about how to drive BPM people crazy? 

Ask them the question that drives CEP people crazy!

Last fall, at the RuleML conference in Orlando, was the first time I heard a consensus that a standard ontology of events and processes was sorely needed.  I’ve had a number of discussions with others on this over the interim until today’s posts by Paul Vincent, summing up an OMG meeting in Washington, DC, and Sandy Kelmsley’s comments on a survey of 590 business process modeling notation users.   (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…)