Analysis: To Better Manage, Separate Rules and Processes

Corticon's BRM system provides New Corp. the rules

In rules management as in process management, separation is the key to success. By separating rules and processes from IT code (and people's heads), organizations gain consistency and predictability. Sterling, Va.-based New Corp. has done just that by combining business rules management (BRM) with its business process management (BPM) environment.

New Corp. handles extended service plans, buyer protection services, warranty service plans and product support for large retailers, financial services firms and jewelry manufacturers, among other clients. Each plan has its own complex set of rules and processes that change frequently. As products are introduced, New Corp. and the client brainstorm about how warranty sales and claims should be covered, the appropriate terms of the agreement and what the supporting claims process should be from initiation through to completion.

Claims processes are automated using WebMethods BPM suite, which New Corp. has used for several years. But recently the company found it needed a rules engine to separate the business rules from the underlying processes. To be consistent and compliant with batch processes and reports, more transparency was required. When New Corp. implemented Corticon's BRM system, "one of the biggest drivers was the visibility it provides," says Ramesh Krishnan, solutions architect. Business, management and IT people needed to be able to look at and centrally store the rules.

Today, it's easy for a business analyst or non-IT person to see the rules; they're displayed in an Excel-like format that's close enough to English sentences to be readily understandable. Business people can tell if the rules match actual and correct business practice just as the BPM modeling tool gives business people a visual understanding of the related processes. For auditing and compliance purposes, the rules engine lets New Corp. report on why each claim was or was not paid.

Integration of the two products was easy, Krishnan says, because both support Web services standards. The company also had no trouble determining which tool should handle which aspects of the work. The BPM software is in charge, orchestrating the process. At any point where a complex decision needs to be made, WebMethods calls on the Corticon engine to do its job.

"People sometimes have difficulty understanding how to utilize BPM technology to its strengths," Krishnan observes. "BPM simply gives you a process or workflow steps--what you need to do and who needs to take action. Many times people misunderstand and use rules tools to orchestrate steps or make a step a decision point," which is not as effective from an audit standpoint.

The BRM/BPM duo has helped New Corp. reduce fraud. "Many times it's hard for an examiner to figure out if someone is knowingly trying to submit a claim one more time," Krishnan says. "We made one of the rules try to prevent duplicate claims or payments."

The tools also enforce service-level agreements. "Where there's human judgment you cannot ensure consistency," Krishnan says. "Today we can say, 'this is the process we follow.'" Humans can make exceptions, but there are rules around them and they're tracked. Best of all, the BPM software and rules engine combined have cut claim approval times to one day, typically, where before it was two to three weeks. The process of changing rules has also been compressed to less than a week, whereas before it was two to three weeks.