Business Rules Technology and Rule-Based Systems

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Do business rules need to be rigidly enforced ?

Advances in information technology in the last 20 years have made it easier to purchase products and services. Although the impact of information technology has been stunning, I doubt if many customers would assert that technology has made it easier to deal with rigid customer support policies and processes, quite the opposite. It can take months to correct a business process or system processing error. This is often the result of overly constrained systems that cannot adapt to changing customer requirements or circumstances.

There are good precedents for discretion in applying business rules. Consider the classic business rule stated as, "any customer payment which is more than 60 days overdue shall be send to a collection agency". It's distinct and atomic rule that should be enforced on the enterprise level. Yet how often is it obeyed to the letter of the corporate law. If a good customer has a legitimate complaint about charges or some other issue, how often will a customer service representative allow an extra 30 days to straighten out the mess before sending the debt to collections ? The answer is almost always. There are exceptions to any rule and perhaps more so for high-level business rules dealing directly with the customer.

There are several important differences between the programming behemoths of yesteryear and an advanced business rules system. One of the biggest differences is that when a customer representative allows a few more weeks before applying a rule such as "send customer account to collections", the information system should have sufficient flexibility not to keep sending the customer nasty letters in the interim. An advanced business rule system will know not to send nasty letters to the customer in the middle of a payment muddle or legitimate dispute over billing ( or what ever the reason ). It is often in the ability to detect exceptions to the rules, help business people make correct decisions and then respond to those decisions that the real power of business rules technology manifests itself.

In fact, I have argued ( sometimes successfully ) that rigid application of rules is contrary to one of the essential benefits of business rules technology, that is, flexibility or "agility" as it is often called these days. While we can continue to expect a certain number of system errors and inconveniences in automated business process of the future, the ability to apply rules flexibility and adapt business rules to specific situations can be a critical factor in the making of happy customers who keep coming back for more.



Tags:   Business   Rules

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