Business rules determine how business software should handle the individual steps of a business process. Rules are usually numerous and complex because different parties have defined them – company management, heads of various departments, or legal authorities, for example. Today, the goal is to get a handle on this complexity and on the continual business changes that directly affect rules in business applications. Companies that can adjust their IT solutions quickly and specifically with the help of flexible architectures and tools enjoy a noticeable competitive advantage. Automating business processes therefore requires automating the underlying rules. Special tools and business rules management systems (BRMS) fulfill this task. With the help of such systems, the responsible parties themselves can define and change business rules – even if they are not technicians. The visual rules BRMS, one of the first BRMS products certified by SAP AG as a plug-in for the SAP NetWeaver Developer Studio tool, visualizes business rules and so that even nontechnical users can understand and work with rules.
Communication with SAP systems
For meaningful execution, business rules need the information required to make decisions – the data on customers for a profile, for example – so effective access to data is crucial for a BRMS. A BRMS must be able to work directly on any Java object model (JavaBeans) and to access external data sources like databases or files. For SAP users, a BRMS must also be able to capture information from existing SAP applications and store the results of rules-based processing in the SAP software.
The visual rules BRMS provides SAP connectivity software for this purpose. The software enables rules-based access to SAP application with BAPIs. The rule models define such access as “actions.” Any BAPI calls can be initiated and controlled by upstream decisions and calculations. In simpler terms, data is first captured in SAP applications and then processed by the rules. The results are then written back to the SAP application. All types of SAP connectivity actions are implemented once in Java; the actions can be reused as often as desired in the rules. To execute the rules, visual rules communicates with SAP applications using the Java connector from SAP.
Business rules are usually integrated into the overall code of an application, so it requires some effort to find them. And because business rules change often, having to hunt for the rules is a problem. That’s why visual rules encapsulates these rules completely in reusable rule components. The components are easier to find, so users can change the rules faster. Even nontechnical users can change the components in their areas of expertise by modeling the rules in collaboration with IT experts.
The BRMS translates the business rules into embedded Java programming code at the push of a button. Because the flow of the rules and their relationship to each other is defined unambiguously, no interpretation of the flow is required. This approach makes execution of the rules rapid, which is particularly important with large amounts of data. A special hot deployment mechanism ensures that the rules can be substituted for each other despite the direct integration of code – without interrupting ongoing operations. The updated business rules are downloaded into an application only after all the rules have been executed.
Direct access to SAP applications results in interesting scenarios. For example, users can perform an invoice check quite easily – a check that uses a set of rules to analyze the invoice data in an SAP application. Users could also calculate commissions and use customer scoring and profiling in the CRM application. In the latter case, the rules assign an appropriate profile to each customer. The customer profiles can be defined individually and differentiated according to various criteria like gender, age, and purchased quantity of specific product lines. This functionality enables companies to address customers individually. The same approach can be used for non-SAP software to map the technical conditions and rules of an interface that must be considered, as well as to map just the data interface.
Business rules: Intuitive and visualized
In general, BRMS have simulation, test, and debugging mechanisms to validate rules and several options for documenting rules. They feature monitoring functions to monitor operating systems and offer statistics and execution logs.
visual rules joins the typical functions of a BRMS with the advantages of a graphical tool. The tool is used to create business rules intuitively and to visualize them in rule trees. The modeling of a rule is based on information, such as customer data, that comes directly from the application, a database, or another source. Presentation occurs with simple graphical elements for making decisions and calculations, structuring the logic, and executing actions. The choice of a specific criterion determines which branch of the rule tree the software will follow. After a series of decisions, users can view the rule tree to recognize the actions that represent a logical result or that trigger processes, such as the assignment of a customer profile or access to SAP applications.
Say an employee is looking for the right target group for an advertising campaign – all men over 25 who have a fashion sense and who have already bought a specific product. During the search, the employee continually can model the rules iterative and limit the set of appropriate customers step-by-step. The remaining group is given a specific profile. visual rules clarifies and simplifies the search. Employees visualize their knowledge as a rule model that they can change at any time during the query and can adjust to answer new questions. Not every profile must be transferred back into the database; that’s a decision that each employee makes individually, as needed.
One solution, varied applications
Companies from various industries already work with visual rules in such areas as compliance, risk management, asset consulting, customer relationship management, services settlement, and claims checking. Banks use visual rules to support consulting and asset processes in the front office. Other applications developed with visual rules include an early warning system for commerce with credit risks and a funds-accounting system. The insurance and health care industries also use technology from visual rules with automatic claims processing. Intelligent forms capture the claims and check them against current laws, regulations, and individual requirements according to rules. Because the legal basis changes constantly, the business logic requires constant adjustment. Expert users can change the rules by themselves.