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Analysis: Where Rules Management and BPM Meet

Rules management and process management are both aimed at improving business agility and performance, but they're fundamentally different technologies designed for complementary purposes. So which tasks do you handle in each toolset? We'll show you how to strike the right mix of techniques and score that perfect 10!

Is your company trying to accelerate cycle times, lower costs, improve responsiveness, ensure compliance with policies and best practices, and increase customer satisfaction? Well, of course! That's why you need a comprehensive approach to managing your organization's business rules. Wait a minute. Aren't those the same things business process management is supposed to do? Confused? That's understandable.

Unfortunately, business rule management and business process management (BPM) are increasingly being pitched as competing options--or one-size-fits-all solutions to business improvement--by vendors and consultants who focus on one area or the other. After all, BPM systems are based on rules, and business rule engines can execute actions without a BPM system.

In reality, BPM suites and business rule management systems serve fundamentally different and complementary purposes. In many cases, you need to use them together to fully achieve the goals of agility, alignment, compliance and the rest. The trick is striking the proper balance: Which rules are the domain of the BPMS and which are managed by the BRMS? What actions should be taken by the business rule engine, and what should be left to the process engine?

These aren't questions vendors and consultants tend to talk about, but this article will help you find the right mix and match the right tools to the task (or decision) at hand.

Process Logic Vs. Decision Logic

Business process management offers tools and methodologies to model, execute and manage the sequence of activities in a business process, separating process logic--the activity flow, task assignment, deadlines and escalation, and exception handling--from the business logic embedded in back-end applications. Business rule management provides similar tools and methodologies to model, execute and manage decision logic, unearthing that logic from back-end applications and business process logic.

Not all rules are business rules; business rules are just those used in decision logic. For example, in loan origination, the activities described by process logic might include receiving the loan application, ensuring completion, gathering supplementary information, underwriting and approval, document generation, updating the transaction systems, archiving for compliance and notifying the customer. Decision logic in that process might determine whether the supplied information is complete, handle credit scoring and other risk assessment, execute the required level of approval and ensure regulatory compliance. You could implement that decision logic using BPMS process logic or by embedding it in process tasks, but doing it with a BRMS makes decision logic more visible to business managers, more consistent across the enterprise and easier to change as required. For complex decisions based on hundreds of rules, using a BRMS in conjunction with BPM may be the only way to go.

By itself, a BPMS can automate simple rules but not manage them effectively. Similarly, a BRMS can trigger the execution of individual activities but not manage them as components of a business process. You need to use the two systems together.

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