Government // Enterprise Architecture
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8/3/2011
11:51 AM
Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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How eBay And Others Cope When Rules Keep Changing

They need software that lets them rewrite business rules often to react to changing conditions. An independent that competes against IBM and Oracle is racking up some notable customer wins in this tech niche.

Rules were made to be broken, as the saying goes. That's why companies that deal with dynamic business conditions often use business rules technology to keep up with change.

Business rules management systems (BRMSs) turn decision logic that would otherwise be expressed in code into English-language-like rules that can be quickly read, written, and changed by business analysts with little knowledge of programming. That cuts down on development time, but it's only half the story. Once the various data points in a would-be transaction can be examined by way of rules, the rules engine at the heart of a BRMS can quickly process each case with little or no human intervention. The instances that meet the requirements are automatically approved while the rejects go into appropriate exception queues.

Banks, insurance companies, and government agencies are big users of BRMSs because the rules around lending, policy issuance, claims approval, and program eligibility change quickly. The technology helps them keep up with change without the delays associated with conventional software development. Version-control capabilities also let you adapt and reuse rules across the enterprise. That's another time saver as changes can be made once and instantly applied wherever a rule comes into play.

What got me thinking about rules was a few recent wins by independent vendor Corticon. The company scored eBay as a customer in March, added Unum to the list of upgrading current customers in June, and announced last week that Simplexity will use its BRMS to handle online sales of mobile phones and service plans.

Simplexity runs the Wirefly.com e-commerce site, and it also provides the online mobile phone and calling plan sales, approval, and activation process used by Overstock.com, Radio Shack, Tiger Direct, Target, and Sears, among other retailers.

Terms and conditions for mobile phone services and contracts are complex and change frequently. Simplexity found it took as long as three to four weeks to make simple changes due to delays associated with conventional software development. With ever-changing phone-contract variables and approval requirements expressed as rules that can easily be rewritten, Simplexity expects to make changes within as little as a week.

"We'll use rules instead of creating custom logic for every business requirement, which should accelerate development and reduce the complexity of merging code and testing," said Tim Weisbrod, senior vice president of software development at Simplexity.

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