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  • The MicroGuide to Process and Decision Modeling in BPMN/DMN: Building More Effective Processes by Integrating Process Modeling with Decision Modeling
    The MicroGuide to Process and Decision Modeling in BPMN/DMN: Building More Effective Processes by Integrating Process Modeling with Decision Modeling

Entries in Business Rules (20)

Sunday
Dec112011

Ten Business Rules Usage Patterns in BPM and Business Events

In my opinion, Progress Software's acquisition of Corticon marks the beginning of the end of the monolithic ‘rules-engine’. The idea that there is a business rules engine that is ‘called’ by a ‘program’ is past and there is a more nuanced understanding of the role of business. By my estimate there are at least 10 separate usages of business rules within business processes and business events.

Firstly, business rules play an important role in the rules-driven process pattern. The common monolithic conception of business rules is that it is only an element of a decision that affects the gateways of one process.
There are various opinions about this and certainly I have mine. Yet, it as the BPM industry matures it is probably wise to use more standard research methods to develop an approach. Researchers at Georgia State University and Utrecht University have identified five categories of business rules that have a behavioral influence on the business process in terms of mitigating operational risk or achieving compliance to regulation.
The five usage categories are:

  1. Rules for task sequencing
  2. Rules for actor inclusion or task assignment
  3. Rules for effect sequencing or gateway conditions
  4. Rules for data / information registration
  5. Rules for detection control or event reponses

Briefly, these five usage categories are described:

Task Sequencing: these rules influence the position of one or multiple activities/events/decision (hence process elements) within a business process.  Most often, to create a process that is compliant with the business rules, process elements are simply added, re-ordered or removed. That is, the existing process model is updated to reflect the new rules.

Actor Inclusion/Interaction or Task Assignment: These are rules that influence the assignment of tasks or decision to specific actors. There are several approaches to creating a complaint process. Firstly, defined actors, in the form of participants, can be removed/added or appointed to different elements inside the process. In addition, a processes can call business rules to delegate the activity to the correct actor.

Effect Sequencing or Gateway Conditions: These rules influence the paths chosen by gateways or conditional sequences inside the process. This is the classic pattern of the values, created by the rules, setting the conditions at gateways and directing the flow of the process. That is: the path chosen is directed by an evaluation of business rules associated with individual transaction. This is more dynamic than task sequencing where rules influence the arrangement of the paths.  An example of effect sequencing is a shipping process where, depending on the needs of the shipment, different transportation process activities need to be executed. This is the most common perception of processes and rules. To make the process compliant, business rules need to be enforced during runtime.

Data / Information Registration or Event Responses: These rules influence the recording and viewing of data and information, and the authorization to access it. Most often, to create a process that is compliant with the business rules, internal controls govern timing: how long must the recorded data be kept accurate and the predefined format of complete or registered data. That is: the registered data must contain the following information and authorization, restricting access to predefined user and roles.

Detection Control or Event Reponses: These rules influence how a process responds to events. Events can be external or internal. External events might include weather, or financial events. Internal events arise from the direct or audited results of an activity or processes.  Most often, to create a process that is compliant with the business rules multiple solutions can be used: process elements can be added, reordered or removed, we can have the process respond to an ‘event channel’ or, a new business process can be created to perform the event control.

The last type can be expanded further. Business Events open another set of 5 patterns for business rules. In the Microguide we defined several classes of decision for event processing. These usually occur in the following order: 

  1. Detection, 
  2. Distribution, 
  3. Aggregation 
  4. Correlation 
  5. Assignment

Not every event processor includes all of these steps. Also, after detection, it is not required for these steps to be executed in this order. The list shown is ideal, in theory, for all event processing situations.

Detection: In event detection, logic is applied to data monitored by the event detector. A business-relevant or ‘event-of interest’ is discovered when the event process matches the logic with the data.

Distribution: In event distribution, the detected event is immediately alerted to the affected process or systems, according the logic and levels of participation. Rules logic decides the level of involvement and the destination of the distributed event. Distribution logic can simplistic, as in a burglar alarm during irregular hours. Complex distribution logic might deliver the event based on the scale of the data within the event.
Events are distributed through two distinct patterns; either through a message, or a broadcast. The message corresponds to the BPMN message. Event processing targets the event activated messages at a process instance. The broadcast distribution method is denoted as a signal event in BPMN, and is analogous to a radio signal.  While a message persists after it is sent, a broadcast is only relevant for a short period of time.

Aggregation: Many business events are only meaningful in combination with other events of a similar or related nature. Logical significance might arise from the timing or temporal nature of the other events. In aggregation, event processing uses business rules logic to identify significant events from a group of events.
Correlation: Event processing includes a correlation step. Event processing can play a role, by detecting internal or external events and correlating these with concurrent processes or data in the enterprise. Active business processes might be identified as intended recipients. Business rules define what data or process states are included in the correlations and the logic of the match.

Assignment: At the conclusion of the cycle, in assignment, the event is assigned to one or more processes. Business rules can choose which process is assigned the event for action. As with all rules, the assignment can be as straightforward as the unconditional assignment to a single process or it can be a time, capability and dependent assignment.

An example of this is shown in the figure below:

Process modelers and business decision modelers use the three metaphors of business processes, business rule and business events these to model solutions. In early incarnation of the business rules engine, the BRMS was built as a separate engine to be included in a batch or separate process. Our understanding of the use of business rules has become more nuanced and more focused on the intended usages. If you model your processes with these rules your rules will be more focused and more compact.

Tom Debevoise

 

Friday
Nov252011

Process, Rules & Events: Critical Business Modeling Methods

Business process modeling, decisions, and business events describe the business, not the technical details. These are evolving, strategic management methods that meet today’s challenges. They work together to make it simple for an organization to update underlying rules or processes activities without complicated redeployments of production systems.

 

Figure for business rule pattern 3, the sequence or path of the process is controlled by the decision graph.

Over the last 5 years, BPM/BR represented a change in the language and symbols that we use to describe business models systems—these methods have become more business-centered and less tied to the technical details of systems. In the past, the IT industry has moved first from information engineering (IE), to object-oriented software engineering (OOSE), to use case analysis. Along the way, commercial off-the-shelf ERP software such as SAP and Oracle Financials became an important part of commonly used technology. The latest methods changed the focus from mathematical theories of data and functions into graphical notations of what the business does. For instance, IE uses an entity relationship diagram (ERD). The ERD depicts relational calculus formulas. A business process diagram, in BPMN, looks and acts like a white board, and business rules have similar graphical descriptions such as decision graphs and decision tables for the rules.

With older methods, data modeling and use case analysis created an immediately outdated technical snapshot of how the organization does business. Businesses always need to change their events, processes and rules to remain competitive. Data modeling and use case analysis do not easily help with these changes in applications. So, in some ways, software based on the metaphors of Process, Event and Decisions is the next step in modern software. Instead of writing programs in Java or C#, these organizations model what the business does in words and diagrams. To update the process or rule, you update the diagrams.

Sunday
Jul242011

The Internet of Goods and Services: Emergent Logic in the Development of the Digital Ecology

 

Figure 1, the Four Quadrants of Economic Development from a Digital Eco perspective

Since the late industrial age, computerization of our economy has played a key role in the development of our society. The development is not limited to business models; it has developed individuals and groups. The latter is only recently becomes apparent from the important of the rise of the models of social networking. In addition, the ‘internet of things’ has created new business models such as Telemedicine and Smart Grids. So, the impact is not only seen at the corporate level, it has also seen in specific individual behaviors within the home, corporate and other group behaviors.

Figure one presents an approximate model of this development based (loosely) on Ken Wilber’s four-quadrant integral development model. This model is useful to understand and predict the characteristics of the next movements in technology, corporate behavior and the actors that will participate. More specifically, the diagram depicts how software technology has become an exogenous expression of group and individual behavior. It has been used successfully to predict and model movements in a number of other areas, especially sociology.

Figure one is centered on the corporation specifically, and the economy more generally. The four quadrants are categorized as it and ‘its’ (ecology or eco) on the right and I and we (ego) on the left. Roughly speaking, the left corresponds to an explanation of "what it is" and a right corresponds to an explanation of "what it means". Development of the economic entities including corporations, governments, and other broader groups radiates outward in time from the center. Figure 1 is centered in the late industrial age, roughly a decade after World War 2. The center of the diagram corresponds to the earliest mainframe that supported basic record sorting and data processing. The central corporate ecology was based on an industrial model. From that point, development spirals outward.

As the technology progress, corresponding structures and concepts in the economic eco (businesses and government entities) progress outward. For instance, most business historians and economists believe the progress of Wal-Mart to be a phenomenon. Wall-Mart owes a large portion of its success to technology. It is well known that their technology contributed to a unique model for retailing and supply chain management. Yet, as we well know, there are risks to progress. Equally compelling arguments for technologies’ effect on the economy were the broken sub-prime business processes (BPM) that led to the numerous closed Wall-Marts (the Ghost Box effect).

Most broadly, for modern business models, in advanced segments of the world, we have moved from the command and control management (i.e. manager-secretary, supervisor-worker) structures to a more decentered management structure. This also corresponds to the current decentralized management structure of the Global Fortune 100. This is the transnational corporate-state in the lower left. Even within these ‘advanced’ societies there are businesses that operate at the lower levels. For instance, ordinary retail or factory production does have the complex needs of the goal-oriented transitional corporation. Again, these points correspond to characteristics of Wilber’s model for the progression of human development. It would be easy to develop this theory, but for the purposes of this discussion, we should note that companies that operate at the advanced corners of the quadrant are the most competitive and profitable. They draw the brightest employees and executives and have the best business opportunities.

The Evaporating Trade/Professional Divide and Effects on Software

 Examine the upper left quadrant. As technology progresses the line between the trades and professions merge. In the medical profession, nurses use complex instruments and software and increasingly act more like doctors. In engineering, engineers develop their own drawings.

This effect is strongest in business. Employee become more self-sufficient and empowered to create solutions to technical and business problems, with less involvement from IT. This movement started with ‘Groupware’ software and applications such as Access, FoxPro and spreadsheets. As software designers noted this trend, they created powerful applications such as Microsoft’s SharePoint in concert with InfoPath. Another outcome is the success of Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) and the many business process suites that support these.

Yet the wide-spread adoption of BPMN and other “software-through-pictures’” technologies would not be possible without the rapid evolution of the job skills and technical capabilities of the employee. Some analysts call these ‘purple’ people. Yet, this is a reactionary viewpoint based on an outdated model of the roles and capabilities of the business managers and analysts. In many of today’s organizations, the business analyst, manager or subject matter expert design and maintain processes and applications and they do this with skills previously considered technical. These organizations operate in areas where multi-week development cycles would be intolerable. These areas include risk management, fraud detection and complex areas of finance and investment. They make (again, would have been considered) highly technical changes to the applications. This is especially true in the areas of Business Process Management, Decision Analytics, Business Rules and Business Intelligence.

The Characteristics of the Phases

 From the viewpoint of this frame of development, many computer scientists, engineers and innovators have a distorted picture of Digital Eco technology. Proponents of one movement or the next believe that their favored method (Relational Data, Object Orientation, Business Intelligence, etc.) should overcome and replace the other. In fact, as components of technology develop, they become parts of the latter phases—analogous to the rungs of a ladder. For instance, the relational database is still a critical component for nearly every enterprise application. Moreover, the relational database remains mature and little unchanged over the last decade. Batch processing is still utilized in many applications, especially in certain financial markets. This is not to say that the lower rungs remain stagnant, advances are made at the earlier phases of development.

Consider China, where the economy is less advanced that the in the west. Mainframe-oriented, batch processing is a predominant computing approach.

Evolving to new Forms

 Another characteristic of the quadrant model of development is the consolidation of the technology industries. The consolidation is not only driven by efficiencies it is also driven by corporate expectations for increasingly more useful and comprehensive solutions. It is clear that, for the most developed and sophisticated consumers, new form of technology will have these characteristics:

  • Elimination of development cycles (requirements), after a short start-up phase, changes to the processes, events, services and applications areas will be made rapidly in a disciplined and precise manner, mostly by the business side of the operation.
  • Support for increasing levels of technical complexity, applications support will require increasingly fine-grained distinctions.

The combination of these components will evolve to more complex forms that would not have been envisioned. To stay ‘on the quadrants edge’, the companies that market these products must merge and integrate them in seamless ways. Clearly the new forms will emerge from the five metaphors that bind all of the components of the quadrants: Data, Processes, Events and Business Rules. This binding occurs in a holography.

The Evaporating Information/Services/Goods Divide

 As mentioned earlier, technology is merging the line between the trades and professions. In the medical profession, nurses use complex instruments and software and increasingly act more like doctors. Yet, with the Internet of things, telemedicine devices can act like nurses. In the US Veterans Administration, many vets have telemedicine stations in their home. This equipment measures a patient’s weight, blood pressure, blood oxygen and other clinical measures. In addition, it asks questions concerning a patient’s main symptoms as directed by their medical history.

This is an example of the Internet of Goods and Services (IGAS) that is emerging from the ‘things world’.

Other examples include:

  • In next generation electrical services, solid state transformers will provide different types of current including 380V DC bi-directional, 24V direct current, standard 50Hz AC, and Square Wave current.
  • Smart-grid services will provide life-style choices and different tariffs
  • Next generation water services will deliver different grades of water to commercial and industrial areas according to needs. For instance, recycled mineral oil might be used in toilets, untreated water would be provided for irrigation. Finally, various levels of treated water will service industrial processes.

I define the Internet of Goods and Services (IGAS) as a cloud computing and sensor-based network that delivers, literally, goods and services to customers. The IGAS network uses intelligence to control the delivery of goods such as electrical, water, and other goods in an optimal way. In the same way, medical and security services can be delivered to the consumer.

IGAS: The Customer Builds the Application

 Just as in the previous rung of the ladder, the customer, knowledge worker or support team member design and maintain IGAS processes and applications and they do this with skills previously considered technical. Customers will create processes that meet their own energy objectives. They will also design their medical care and transportation system.

- Tom Debevoise


Wednesday
Jul062011

Second Edition Microguide Process Modeling in BPMN Released

I would like to announce the availability of second edition of the ‘Microguide to BPMN 2.0’. Of the many books available on BPMN, this is to first to enter its second edition in a new and enhanced form.  

Amazon Page

A new era for process modeling has arisen and in our second edition, we continue with the most concise coverage of BPMN available. We cover more ‘real-life’ business scenarios and model more unstructured, monitored and indefinite activities in BPM. The text not only corporates new metaphors of events and decision-directed event processing, it also covers 15 different BPM design patterns, forged in the furnace of practical, state-of-the-art process modeling, that provide a shortcut to a proven design. The material in this comprehensive, focused book has been gleaned from actual practices and proven in many of the most advanced processes in production today.

In concise language, we explain how to build visible, agile and powerful process that meet the needs of a chaotic and globally federated environment. It truly is an essential resource on the practical application of event, decision and process modeling.

This is my forth book project, and a few years ago I wrote some words of wisdom on the topic of book writing. If you are thinking about writing a book you might read them here.

Over the next months I intend to focus on BPM and BPMN on this Blog.

The book is available from amazon at http://tinyurl.com/MicroguideBPMN.

- Tom Debevoise

Thursday
Nov042010

A Complete, Web-Based Business Rules Modeler 

For the past 5-6 years, most larger BRMS vendors have offered a Web Version of their Rule Modeling tools. Innovations is finally entering this area with release 5.0. While this is a late entrant in the game, Innovations has taken full advantage of the last ‘adopter’ position.

You can see an example of the Web Modeler here.

If you do not know, Visual Rules uses a visual approach to modeling Business Rules. A single sequence of shapes on a flow rule, such as the example below, or a decision table is equivalent to multiple lines of code or symbols. The approach is visual; logic is expressed in the notations.

Figure: With Visual Rules Web Modeler, you will be able to create visual logic such as this.

The Visual Rules Web Modeler places this logic on a Rich-Internet client with drag and drop capabilities and graphical tools. Moreover, it provides enterprise-strength features, such as workflow approval of business rules changes and direct access to business data.

This method varies vastly from the Lexical analysis done in the Legacy BRMS systems. They abstract every term in the business rules into a language symbol and separate business data from the rules. This is not only a performance restriction; it impedes agility, which forces the business into useless analysis and reduces flexibility. A compact symbolic or language-based solution for business problems comes at the expense of creating language grammar and symbolic logic. Placing this on the Web does not improve the experience of analysts and managers.

Full Review in Webinar

On November 11, 2010 my friend and colleague Markus Schartel will be presenting the web modeler in a conference with John Rymer of the Forrester Group. You can register here for that webinar.  

 

Tom Debevoise

(ps: Better yet, contact me personally and I will get you a personal briefing.)