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Silvie Spreeuwenberg: "Business rules management is an important area that a company needs to pay attention to if it wants to be flexible, innovative and leading edge."


Beside the trend towards Semantic Web the field of Business Rules has come up as a vital area dealing with the semantic representation of business processes and the leverage of business intelligence. Tassilo Pellegrini talked to Silvie Spreeunwenberg, CEO of LibRT, about the necessity of Business Rules and the forthcoming BR Conference from June 18 - 20, 2007 in Dusseldorf.

Business Rules have come up as a hot topic a few years ago. What is the current status? What are hot topics at the moment?

All organizations are trying to do a better job then their competitors. So they create new strategies, policies and guidelines to stay ahead of the competition. Companies will continue to do this, the question is whether they do it in the most efficient way. If you can not even find your rules it may be even harder to adjust them. But of course if you never clean your room you can't find what you are looking for. Even my 4 year old daughter is getting this message but a lot of companies still need to realize the truth behind this observation. And organizations also need to realize that you don't 'start with business rules' , you can also not 'stop with business rules', you can only 'start improving the management of your business rules'.

So that is where we are and organizations that start this new approach go through a, sometimes painful, realization how bad the communication has been between different departments of the organization. In business rules management you always bring different departments together and you need to establish a common vocabulary to write down the rules in a way everybody understands them the same way. This all has to do with communication.

The hottest topic at this moment: "improve the communication about the rules". As organiser of the European Business Rules Conference and the Dutch Business Rules Platform I find that there is a lot of interest from organizations to talk about there business rules improvement projects and to listen to them.

What distinguishes business rules approaches from traditional business process management or related knowledge management approaches? Who is best qualified to manage business rules in a company?

Both business process management, knowledge management and business rules management are important area's that a company needs to pay attention to if they want to be flexible, innovative and leading edge.

The difference between the three named approaches is that they focus on the management of different assets and, as a consequences, there may be different people involved in those approaches. Talking about BPM you are typically in the Six Sigma area, you talk about efficiency, measure delay's and you can change the process to improve some aspect of your business without changing the rules. Talking about business rules we talk a lot about legal issues that organizations need to be compliant with, we typically talk to experienced staff that are in the position of defining new products and services. These are different people then the process people although it is important to know what rules are relevant in what processes. Knowledge management tends to focus most on knowledge that is difficult to formalize and to find because it is only available in people's mind and unstructured information. Depending on the organization however, some knowledge can be transformed to formal rules and than be managed by the business rules management team.

What the three approaches have in common is that they all focus on the business as being leading in the creation of the processes, the rules and the knowledge BUT a new IT system is often the driver to pay more attention to these assets.

Where does technology come in? What kind of business rules technology currently exists in the market?

The technology used in the business rules approach is well established since they exists since the mid 80-ties. All programmers with a higher education have heard from that technology as 'expert systems' but only a few programmers actually use them much. The vendors that sell products based on these reasoning algorithms have been able to catch up with all new developments and can be integrated easily in a Service Oriented Architecture, Java or .NET environment etc.

Besides offering an efficient reasoning machine on production rules these environments offer different interfaces to edit rules that can be adjusted on the needs of the programmer, analyst or end-user that is responsible for maintaining the rules.

Do you see any complementarities between business rules approaches and the Semantic Web? Where do they come together?

Sure, they both try to create a conceptual model that is the basis to describe knowledge in a formal way. They both try to talk about things and knowledge in a non-ambiguous way. And if you look at the roots and the technology they both have their roots in predicate logic and artificial intelligence. The collaboration between these two fields has just started and I believe and hope that this collaboration will bring benefits for both approaches. In the Semantic Web the focus is very much on large bodies of knowledge that you typically find in Biology and Medicine and for these big bodies of knowledge there is a focus on formal methodologies to support automatic verification. The business rules approach should take advantage of this research so that they can be better used in domains with a very large knowledge domain and they can prevent the problems that organizations faced 20 years ago with expert systems: that the knowledge was difficult to maintain and keep consistent.

I believe that the business rules approach is doing a better job at this moment in trying to communicate to people with a non-technical (or non-logic) background. In that respect the Semantic Web approach can learn from the business rules approach. Also the nature of the problems that the business rules approach deals with asks for a very rich set of knowledge representation features. So the communication between Semantic Web and business rules should flow in both directions. Therefore we organize a special track on the Semantic Web, together with REWERSE, at the European Business Rules Conference this year. The other way around: Ron Ross (father of the business rules approach) will be speaking at the AAAI [Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence Spring Symposium] with the preliminary title "Semantics Meets Business Rules and Process Management" in March 2008 at Stanford University'.

This years Business Rules Conference will take place from 18 – 20 of June 2007 in Dusseldorf. Who are you addressing with this event? What will be the highlights?

The Business Rules Conference attracts professionals that work:

One of the highlights are the presentations on the standards for business rules that are evolving at the EBRC and the W3C. I think it is good for everyone to listen to the use cases where organizations tell what they have experienced in their business rules projects. Finally their is an exhibition where vendors of business rules products present their products for organizations that are in the process of choosing a rules engine of rules management system.

About Silvie Spreuwenberg / LibRT

Drs. S. Spreeuwenberg is the co-founder and director of LibRT and RuleArts. She has a background in artificial intelligence and is experienced in business rules modelling. The majority of Silvie's experience is in the field of legislation. Her focus has been on expert maintenance of business rules.



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