Why do business sponsors within an organisation adopt BRMS? What motivates them and what return do they expect on their investment? What drives IT teams to suggest BRMS to their businesses? What ROI do they expect and how does this differ from the business. What adoption pitfalls does this lead to? In this article we look back at our 12 years experience of applying BRMS in the finance industry to see what lessons we can learn from Business versus IT expectations about BRMS and how they differ.
A Conflict of Interest
From our experience in the finance industry, the motivations that business subject matter experts might have for using business rules is different to the motivations that IT staff have. This mismatch in motivations can cause problems during BRMS adoption.
Business users considering BRMS are driven by the desire for:
- agility – turning around business rule changes as easily and as quickly as possible
- visibility – providing an explicit statement of how the users’ business operates and makes key decisions, in plain English, that any authorised employee can see with a web browser, without need to understand software. Furthermore, the user can see how decisions support corporate strategy, business KPIs and align with key compliance and standards dictates;
- business control – providing the ability for business users to define, review, critique and make changes to key decision logic;
- organisation – providing a means to structure and report on the business policies supported by an organisation;
- business optimisation – the ability for business users to play with rules in a sandbox environment to see how they might be improved to better support business goals (e.g., champion-challenger testing);
- behavioural traceability – the ability to substantiate any unexpected or undesired behaviour back to the rule(s) that caused it;
- goal traceability – the opportunity to explicitly link specific business rules and decisions to long term business goals in order to see which rules and policies work best at achieving these goals; and
- governance – a process to manage this change safely by controlling the lifecycle of business rules and formalising the partnership between the business and IT change processes
IT, on the other hand, are often more concerned with:
- safety and control – giving the business users sufficient flexibility and agility without any increase in production incidents; IT can often get this compromise wrong – stifling agility or increasing the frequency of production system mishaps (e.g., accidental deployment)
- audit – recording all change made to a ruleset and ensuring a disciplined release process;
- performance – the ability to process high volumes of data within the prevailing deadlines and the false concern that BRMS will impede performance;
- testability – how easily business rules can be automatically regression tested); and
- architectural fit – the ease with which BRMS software will integrate with existing infrastructure.
The key mistakes Business users often make include:
- believing the hype of BRMS vendors – that they will be able to control their business decisions easily without a serious investment of training to understand the deeper complexities of their business operations and effort on their part to define governance processes;
- believing business rules are ‘an IT thing’ – fear of being involved with business rules due to a misconception that it is a technical domain;
IT often make the mistakes of:
- being territorial – because they believe that BRMS obviates the need for developers or that the business will be incapable of business rule stewardship. Often IT misses the opportunity for a new partnership with business policy makers;
- believing business rules are ‘an IT thing’ – a dogmatic belief that business SMEs will not understand business rules;
- IT centric implementation – exposing the wrong level of detail to business rules or defining an IT centric rule vocabulary making rules too technical and ‘programming language like’; this is often an issue with home grown solutions based on open source BRMS; and
- current system mindset – perpetuating a business model based on today’s IT systems rather than the underlying business itself, thereby perpetuating the limitations of the current environment and missing an opportunity to give the business ‘new levers of control’
Key battlegrounds tend to be centred on issues of control vs flexibility and adequate separation of technical and business abstractions. The design of a process for maintaining and evolving business rules within an enterprise tend to be overlooked or underestimated.
Both IT and the business need to make a significant investment in their understanding of what is possible, what is desirable for their business and their working relationship for the whole to work well. It is not as simple as selecting and installing a BRMS. A business sponsor and champion is a prerequisite for successful adoption of business rules.