In recent years a new set of tools is emerging to allow business users to maintain their business vocabularies, rules and fact models. These differ from business rule management systems (BRMS) in that they are firmly oriented toward business experts and not technologists. What functionality do these tools offer and how do they differ from BRMS?
Business vocabulary and rules management systems (BVMS) are designed for business use. They should not be confused with a business rules management system (BRMS) that supports the multi-user, collaborative entry, version control, documentation, dissemination, validation, deployment and execution of business rule implementations, usually done by developers or business SMEs with some development acumen. Instead BVMS (tools like RuleArts RuleXpress and New Wisdom Software’s RuleGuide) support the core business community in defining terms (concepts), facts and rules from a business perspective. BVMS tools may not be capable of executing rules, but they can review your terms, facts and rules for internal consistency, support the building of a fact model, assess concept (term) and rule quality (using RuleSpeak guidelines), manage their evolution, support collaborative authoring and generate sophisticated reports. BVMS user interfaces are designed for direct use for the business and are much more approachable than most BRMSs. In addition they have facilities (which BRMS do not) to ensure the traceability of all terms, facts, rules, rule groups and decision tables to the underlying business requirement.
This table shows how one might compare BVMS versus BRMS for business tasks (blue), technical tasks (pink) and overlapping tasks (purple).
BVMS tools should therefore be seen as either:
- An important adjunct to a BRMS, supporting the business foundations of rules within organisations: holding the approved definitions of business terms, facts and rules and their traceability to business documentation; or
- A powerful means of capturing, formalising, quality assurance and dissemination of business policy (in terms, facts and rules) where the execution of rules (provided by a BRMS) is not required.
When Should You Use BVMS?
The rarer, latter case for a BVMS is clear: it is a powerful, semantic, collaborative documentation tool. In the former case many organisations already using a BRMS may be justifiably reluctant to add yet another tool to their armoury. So what is the business case for a BVMS in this situation? They address the weaknesses of current BRMSs:
- lack of approachability by business users;
- lack of support for term definition with business semantics;
- lack of support for fact modelling; and
- lack of support for rule semantic QA (RuleSpeak, SVBR).
These are all important, for without them a solid business rule implementation may not be well grounded in the business facts of the enterprise it serves and may, therefore, not deliver all the benefits of BRMS. Without the features of BVMS, you are unlikely to get serious business SME participation in your business rule initiatives.
Two things will determine the lasting business case for BVMS: the extent to which BRMS grow to subsume BVMS functionality themselves and the extent to which BVMS integrate with BRMS to prevent double-entry of rule data – few will use BVMS if they then have to rekey all their data into a BRMS. Some BVMS (like RuleXpress, mentioned above) can integrate with key BRMS products to mitigate this.
If your business needs to collaboratively author non-executable rules (for documentation purposes, for example in the legal profession), or it needs to develop executable rules and has experienced difficulties marrying their business SMEs with traditional BRMS, then BVMS could be an excellent solution for you.