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Business rules polish processes -

The head of software vendor Ilog explains how rules-based systems can empower staff

Phil Muncaster, IT Week 01 Sep 2005
ADVERTISEMENTIT Week: As chief executive of business-rules systems vendor Ilog, can you explain how business rules differ from business processes?

Pierre Haren: They serve different purposes but are complementary. The talk nowadays is, "Which will drive the other?" Once you have a set of processes in place, and they are all linked up in the way you want, you must then ask the question, "How am I going to execute these processes?" So you install rule-based modules at each step of the process, and these contain readable code that can be altered easily and quickly to change the process if necessary.

So what are the advantages of a rules-based system?

There is the need for a little software investment at the start but the user gets a better service for a lower price and everything is traceable. For example, if you calculate an insurance quote, a rules-based approach means you will be able to show clearly why you got what you got.

Can such tools help compliance?

We offer a compliance solution accelerator. This is a pre-written framework that aggregates all the non-compliance events that may be generated into XML, to create an instantly web-available report. Having a rules-based approach also means you will have a complete dated record of all the rules and when they were deployed in the repository, which makes it easy to trace processes - this is impossible if the rules are embedded in code.

Does this rules-based approach help end-users to take more control over business processes?

Before, the business user would have to ask the IT guy to deliver, then the IT guy would go away and program the change. But now, as long as they have access rights to the repository, the business user can do it themselves. It's similar to content management for the web - in the past the webmaster had to write the HTML code, but now, with web content management tools, the webmaster only needs to check the overall running of the system and the marketing people can define the content themselves.

How is the business process management [BPM] market developing?

The early adopter stage was two years ago when most people would stare blankly if you mentioned BPM or business rules, but now it's rare to meet IT chiefs who don't know what these terms mean. But even though it holds tremendous advantages, the Western world is still in denial of the usefulness and usability of this technology. If they just begin with one application, though, the vast majority of our customers will then go on to develop two or three more.

Do you think there be consolidation among BPM vendors?

I'm reluctant to predict a frenzy of consolidation because I did once and it still hasn't happened. We certainly have a lot of cash and plan to get some interesting actors to join forces with us - it makes sense that the smaller guys will want to join with the big players.

About Pierre Haren

Pierre Haren is chief executive of business rules specialist Ilog, which he founded in 1987.

He spent four years at the French National Institute for Research in Computer Science and Control, and led a team developing expert systems tools.