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ILOG launches JRules 6

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But perhaps it is now time to revisit rules processing, if you've rejected it in the past as too limited, too specialised or too worrying. But you must still be realistic; remember we are at the start of something here, not yet looking at a fully mature development platform. Colleen McLintock, product manager for JRules, recognises the continuing issues and it is partly this realism that helps convince me that ILOG has something usable:

“One of the things we’ve done in promoting Business Rules is to sell this Business Agility story,” McLintock says. “In JRules 6 it’s a compelling story from a business perspective, so we focused on that on the marketing side, but the fact of the matter is, we’re a development organisation ourselves. So the bit you didn’t see a demo of is all the stuff you’re concerned about. The development environment integrates with standard source code control/configuration management systems – any [of these] that plug into Eclipse.”

But, doesn’t this imply that business users exploiting business agility will have to learn some of the tricks of real developers?

“Here’s how this works, and this is what’s new with JRules 6,” McLintock explains. “The IT side can synchronise the changes to rules; the business side can write the rules, change the rules, test the rules - but it can’t deploy the rules. From the developer’s workstation, the developer can pull the changes into the development environment, check them into source code control and configuration management and use standard software development practices….”

And, she points out, the JRules 6 Rules Scenario Manager assists with testing both the business side (helping people understand the impact of new rules on the business) and the logical – technical - correctness of the rules.

However, ILOG’s goal, she says, isn’t to re-invent the wheel on the IT side - we already have configuration management and testing tools which work well enough (although, perhaps, there may be scope for innovation in generating sanitised test data to fire rules in a controlled way) – but to focus on delivering business agility.

ILOG is not the only player in town. Fair Isaac , for instance, uses its rule engine as the foundation for a rich set of business applications around “Enterprise Decision Management”. Nevertheless, ILOG has synergies too: it claims that its optimisation technology is used to make its Rules Engine particularly efficient, and you don't really build Rules-based systems unless volumes are high.

ILOG also has visualisation technology and perhaps this highlights a possible omission from JRules 6 at the moment. It lacks an overall visualisation tool that could allow business stakeholders in rules processing to visualise accurately the overall effect of multiple overlapping rules (without oversimplifying things). But ILOG has the technology and experience needed for rules visualisation so perhaps McLintock is right when she says that this is simply a hard problem, albeit one that is being worked on.

And that rather sums up Business Rule Processing. Once you get beyond the basics, it’s not a trivial problem, but the expertise is out there. Rules interoperability standards are coming and developers, as well as business users, are becoming better supported. If you need to support automated business process in a regulated world, and who doesn’t, then you can’t afford to ignore Business Rules Processing these days. ®

Further reading:

ILOG’s White Papers on Business Rules are here.

Jess is a rule engine and scripting environment written in Java by Ernest Friedman-Hill at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, CA. This page on the Jess site provides an overview of JSR-000094, the Java Rule Engine API.

Read about Business Rules in the Semantic Web (from an OMG perspective).

What you need to know about business rules standards, according to Fair Isaac.

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