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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.
Corticon's BRMS will be used by half a dozen people at Simplexity. A system architect will handle more extensive changes, but otherwise business analysts and business process specialists not in the IT department will be able to handle the small changes that come up more frequently, Weisbrod said.

Rules management software vendors used to talk up each customer win, but you don't hear as much about the technology now that some of the independents have been acquired. Yasu Technologies, for example, was acquired by SAP in 2007, Haley was bought by Oracle in 2008, and in the biggest deal of all, IBM acquired market leader iLog for $340 million in early 2009. The technology is still selling (and there's also a Drools/JBoss open-source BRMS), but these larger vendors roll rules into larger deals involving services oriented architecture, business process management, enterprise applications or all of the above.

Rules are always part of larger deployments, and indeed Corticon is partnered with Hewlett-Packard and independent business process management vendors including Appian. As for those recent wins, Corticon execs says they're replacing an iLog deployment at eBay. The auction giant declined requests for an interview, but in a statement, Raji Arasu, vice president of technology, eBay Marketplaces, said the company chose Corticon's product for its ability to "accurately automate and change even the most complex rules with relative ease."

Long-time Corticon customer Unum, an employee benefits management and insurance firm, is upgrading to the latest version of Corticon 5 to take advantage of a new RuleSheet modeling metaphor and interface that helps you see sets and sequences of rules that go together to form decision services. "That's going to be plus for us because we'll be able to reuse collections of rules for more than one decision," says John Pennoyer, a solution architect at Unum.

A set of rules that determine policy issue age at Unum, for example, might apply when determining premiums, looking up rates, or handling claims. With rule sheets, the same collections of rules can be reused to support three separate decisions, Pennoyer said.

As is the case at Unum, eBay, and Simplexity, BRMS users tend to manage hundreds of rules that are collected into decision services called out by Web services and applied to multiple decision points. If you're not writing lots of rules and breaking them frequently to keep up with business demands, then you're not a candidate for a rules technology.

ERP is old news, but enhancing legacy software with mobile, analytics, and social apps can deliver substantial new value. Also in the new, all-digital issue of InformationWeek: SaaS can create new data silos unless companies follow best practices to make those apps work with on-premises systems and data sources. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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