Business Rules Forum: Pedram Abrari on MDA, SOA and rules

Pedram Abrari, founder and CTO of Corticon, did a breakout session on model-driven architecture, SOA, and the role that rules play in all of this. I’m also in the only room in conference center that’s close enough to the lobby to pick up the hotel wifi, and I found an electrical outlet, so I’m in blogger heaven.

It’s a day for analogies, and Abrari uses the analogy of car for a business application: the driver representing business, and the mechanic representing IT. A driver needs to have control over where he’s going and how he gets there, but doesn’t need to understand the details of how the car works. The mechanic, on the other hand, doesn’t need to understand where the driver is going, but keeps the car and its controls in good working order. Think of the shift from procedural to declarative development concepts, where we’ve moved from stating how to do something, to what needs to be done. A simple example: the difference between writing code to sum a series of numbers, and just selecting a range of cells in Excel and selecting the SUM function.

The utopia of model-driven architecture (MDA) is that  business applications are modeled, not programmed; they’re abstract yet comprehensive, directly executable (or at least deployable to an execution environment without programming), the monitoring and analytics are tied directly to the model, and optimization is done directly on the model. The lack of programming required for creating an executable model is critical for keeping the development in the model, and not having it get sucked down into the morass of coding that often happens in environments that are round-trippable in theory, but end up with too much IT tweaking in the execution environment to ever return to the modeling environment.

He then moved on to define SOA: the concept of reusable software components that can be loosely coupled, and use a standard interface to allow for platform neutrality and design by contract. Compound/complex services can be built by assembling lower-level services in an orchestration, usually with BPM.

The key message here is that MDA and SOA fit together perfectly, as most of us are aware: those services that you create as part of your SOA initiative can be assembled directly by your modeling environment, since there is a standard interface for doing so, and services provide functionality without having to know how (or even where) that function is executed. When your MDA environment is a BPMS, this is a crystal-clear connection: every BPMS provides easy ways to interrogate and integrate web services directly into a process as a process step.

From all of this, it’s a simple step to see that a BRMS can provide rules/decisioning services directly to a process; essentially the same message that I discussed yesterday in my presentation, where decision services are no different than any other type of web services that you would call from a BPMS. Abrari stated, however, that the focus should not be on the rules themselves, but on the decision service that’s provided, where a decision is made up of a complete and consistent set of rules that addresses a specific business decision, within a reasonable timeframe, and with a full audit log of the rules fired to reach a specific decision in order to show the decision justification. The underlying rule set must be declarative to make it accessible to business people.

He ended up with a discussion of the necessity to extract rules out of your legacy systems and put them into a central rules repository, and a summary of the model-driven service-oriented world:

  • Applications are modeled rather than coded
  • Legacy applications are also available as web services
  • Business systems are agile and transparent
  • Enterprise knowledge assets (data, decisions, processes) are stored in a central repository
  • Management has full visibility into the past, present and future of the business
  • Enterprises are no longer held hostage by the inability of their systems to keep up with the business

Although the bits on MDA and SOA might have been new to some of the attendees, some of the rules content may have been a bit too basic for this audience, and/or already covered in the general keynotes. However, Abrari is trying to make that strong connection between MDA and rules for model-driven rules development, which is the approach that Corticon takes with their product.

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