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This session was a quick overview of business rules. Business rules, Michael  says, represent the constraints and behaviors of your business – your policies,  not just your IT rules like database integrity rules. Business rules are owned  by the business – eligibility, pricing, CRM practices and so on. Michael divided  these rules up into things like rate calculation rules, decision or eligibility  rules, recommendation rules, personalization or localization rules,  configuration rules and more. Historically these have been stored in databases  or code (if automated) and in tacit know-how and documents (if manual).  Obviously manual rules can be hard to scale or apply consistently while  automated ones are opaque to the business. Challenges:

  • Zero visibility into decisions
    Even though the business “own” these rules  and are accountable for them they cannot understand the software
  • SDLC
    Business rules often change more rapidly than software and so tying  them into a software release cycle and an Removing decisioning from the SDLC
  • Human experts are expensive
    Hard to scale, expensive to train and hard to  maintain knowledge
  • Scattered knowledge
    Most companies use all the various approaches so  there is not central place to manage rules leading to compliance issues,  consistency issues etc.

Business rules management allows you to externalize the rules, allowing them  to change more rapidly, automate critical decisions, apply them consistently and  puts the business in charge of maintaining the rules (though there are  challenges with this as I discussed in this post on business  usage of this kind of technology and have discussed in this brief).

SAP got into the rules business by acquiring YASU, an independent rules  vendor, and used their expertise to build a complete rules environment inside  Netweaver. Michael used a warranty  claims process example from YASU to show how decision automation can work –  the rules-based solution saved nearly $2M while processing time was reduced by  80%.

Netweaver Business Rules is part of the Netweaver Composition Environment  (CE). It allows you to model rules as:

  • If then rules
    Simple English-like statements supporting and/or logic
  • Decision tables
    Tabular format, looks kind of like a  spreadsheet and 7.2  actually allows you to use Excel. This is technically what I call a rule sheet  not a decision table but that’s OK.
  • Rule flows (or what I prefer to call decision flows) from 7.2

The rules can use a fairly natural language style and run against either Java  objects or XML. All of this shares an environment and navigation with the rest  of Netweaver – they work together or separately but are integrated when used  together.

End to end support is offered within the environment, integrated into  Eclipse-based tools. Also a web-based collaborative tool with role-based access  to manage and deploy rules. Version management and traceability are also  supported. The Rules Manager allows roles-based extension of the rules through a  web-based interface so different users can have different permissions for  different rules. Comparison tools and rule verification are also supported in  this environment to help business users make changes safely.

One of the key features of business rules is their reusability and SAP allows  the Netweaver BRM rules to be built into composite applications, exposed as web  services, linked to business processes or even linked to the legacy SAP  programming language ABAP. The integration with Netweaver BPM allows you to  bring in decision  services, the best way to use rules by the way, but you can also use the  rules to support human activities, to handle mapping and transforms.

Michael ran through a demo. This started with the Eclipse-based environment  which was, as you would expect, pretty developer-friendly. The various artifacts  could be easily created and the rule flow or decision flow was nicely based on  BPMN which I thought was a smart idea, given the integration with Netweaver BPM.  Some quick and easy tools to help developers with testing and verification,  deployment and so on.

The current version of the Business Rules Management component is pretty good  but there are some nice features coming in 7.2. 7.2 adds the rule flow,  integrates with Excel, generates web services for a ruleset easily, version  management, HTML reporting, rule effectivity and the web interface for business  users.

In the future SAP plans to add various features:

  • 7.2 is coming at the end of the year with its new features
  • Q3 2010 will see a more expressive rule language, improved rule testing and  debugging, better integration as well as localization and improved  reusability
  • Vision is for what-if scenarios, rule-based event correlations and event  responses, and integration with the enterprise service repository.

Some good thought has gone into the SAP Netweaver BRM capability and I look  forward to finding out more in subsequent sessions.

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