Mission Intelligence: Hide Complexity, Expose the Rules - InformationWeek
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Mission Intelligence: Hide Complexity, Expose the Rules

Discovering existing business rules independently of applications and databases is often the first big step toward sustaining behavioral change across the enterprise.

Hide what's inside: That's the secret for vendors, developers and managers of strategic business systems who want to win over end users. Even with something as important as managing content--the subject of our cover package--the experiences of Halliburton and others have shown that it's best not to expose users to behind-the-scenes details of content management and integration. Hide it inside Microsoft Outlook, just as many believe business intelligence and performance management should live inside Excel. Hide it all somewhere, so that users can get on with their lives and simply profit from better access to information riches.

Where's the rub? End users can lose sight of business rules and semantic context--at their peril. Often, this vital stuff is coded procedurally and resides deep in the proprietary guts of enterprise applications, database systems, workflow and content management systems. In our recent business rules management poll, readers told us that nearly 35 percent of business rules reside in internally developed applications and legacy systems; 22 percent are in packaged applications and 15 percent live in database systems as triggers and stored procedures.

Beyond IT's developers, only the few "go-to" power users typically carry knowledge of this stuff inside their heads. Today, the demand is for ease of use; end users are becoming like most automobile drivers, who couldn't point out a spark plug if their life depended on it, much less figure out where the dip stick goes. Instead, drivers know the rules of the road and by experience, when they can safely disobey them. End users need to implement strategic applications according to the rules of business.

Legacy systems that no longer match the goals, behavior and responsibilities of the business are a danger--not only to enterprise performance, but to the careers of employees themselves. Rules coded into application tasks and procedures can fall out of sync with the ill-defined, behavioral "rules" of conduct driven by the demands of Wall Street investors and executive leadership. Billing systems in service industries offer notorious examples; gray areas characterize ambiguous definitions of hours worked and the value of services rendered. Executives demand maximum profitability ratios. Employees must improvise to fill in the gaps. They can find themselves exposed and out on a limb of their own making when the government comes to call.

Hounded by aggressive regulators and ambitious prosecutors, corporate leaders of today's massive conglomerates are quick to sacrifice such exposed employees and cut a deal if the government identifies wrongdoing. Thus, far from a threat to their own unique value, it is in employees' best interests to discover, define and even automate current business rules and policies. And if what they do to satisfy performance expectations doesn't match the rules defined by application procedures and processes--not to mention current regulations--it's time to take a hard look at independent business rules management systems (BRMS).

Discovering existing business rules independently of applications and databases is often the first big step toward sustaining behavioral change across the enterprise--and thus, what businesses want when they desire "agility." A BRMS can maintain those rules so that they may be updated and applied currently and consistently across applications. Right now, 61 percent of readers polled say their organization has "no standard process or practice" for BRMS. Yes, hide the mess: but don't let users fly blind. Bring rules out so users can live by them.

David Stodder is the editorial director and editor in chief of intelligent enterprise. write to him at dstodder@cmp.com.

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