Business Rules and Expert Systems/AI … Friends or Foes?
There are very important differences in the traditions of business rules vs. expert systems. Perhaps that’s why business rules had a completely different origin. In any case, they didn’t start finding each other until the late 1990s. (The first Business Rules Forum Conference was in 1997 … and every year since except in 2000.)
The general goal of expert systems was broadly to mimic intelligent behavior – any kind of intelligent behavior. As a colleague put it, that’s like trying to read the mind of God. Human behavior (even the not-so-intelligent kind) is exceeding complex.
The goal of business rules was always to capture the rules of organizations, not individuals. That’s one or two or more orders of magnitude easier – those rules have to come from somewhere … and that ‘somewhere’ was originally knowable (even if an arbitrary design decision by some programmer). So the issue with business rules is as much about business traceability (rule management) as it is expression.
This problem goes right to the very heart of business governance and business agility. Continuing to embed business rules in procedural code (a) makes the business rules very difficult to trace, and (b) very difficult and expensive to change. It’s like setting the rules in concrete. It also precludes the possibility in the future of supporting specification-time detection of anomalies and intelligent dialogs to help Business Analysts remove ambiguity.
For business rules, it ultimately comes down to the words you use and ‘remembering’ the interpretations made of them. There’s no way to demonstrate compliance without words, and no way to support transparency and accountability without traceability.
The solution to all these problems, which are problems of business governance and therefore business engineering, leads inevitably in one direction. That’s why I’ve put so much time into researching business rules since the early 1990s and before. (Originally we thought in terms of databases and integrity constraints, another difference in origin from expert systems.) It’s also why I’ve spent so much time on the SBVR standard over the past 6 years or more. (At the risk of oversimplifying hugely, SBVR is about words and sentences.)
The bottom-line: The way we do things today simply has to change. Change does take time. It also takes false starts and trial-and-error. But we’ll get there. Hey, business automation is barely one human generation old. That’s incredibly fast in the big scheme of things.
Read more about the history of business rules: http://www.brcommunity.com/history.php
Tags: AI, anomalies, articial intelligence, business rules vs expert systems, expert systems, governance, rule management, traceability
Ronald G. Ross
Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.