SAP BPM 2008: Business Rules Management

I was up bright and early today to hear Soum Chatterjee from SAP Labs give an introduction to their business rules product, the recently-acquired Yasu (which Chatterjee claims stands for Yet Another Start-Up). I’ve had a bit of a look at it in the context of the NetWeaver BPM demos that I’ve had, but wanted to hear about their roadmap for the product.

He started with some very fundamental information on business rules, and made an interesting comment (considering who writes his paycheck): maybe embedding rules in the code of systems like SAP’s ERP was not a great idea. Of course, neither was having rules embedded in database triggers or non-automated methods such as documenting them in procedures guides or just having them in people’s heads. In these cases, we might see lack of flexibility, lack of visibility and lack of enforcement/standardization as well as having the business rules scattered around the organization where they can’t be properly managed. The solution, of course, is SAP NetWeaver BRM 🙂  Consider that the audience is mostly SAP customers who are very used to the idea of business rules embedded within their ERP code, some of these ideas are pretty radical, but he does a good job of laying out the value proposition of business rules, not just a product overview. He put it in the context of BPM, where the ability to change the rules within processes provides maximum agility.

From a rules product standpoint, they have a suite including:

  • A composer for modeling rules, in an Eclipse-based environment that can be used by a business analyst. It uses a natural language-like representation of the rules, and provides conflict resolution and other up-front analysis of the rules being modeled. Rules can be represented as a decision table, classic if-the-else code, or as a graphical rule flow (which is a sort of decision tree). I’ve also seen this integrated into the process modeling environment in their BPM product.
  • A rules manager for deploying and managing rules.
  • A rules engine to execute the rules. Rules can be consumed as web services (and therefore by their BPM or any other composite application modeling environment) and ABAP business applications.
  • A repository for storing the rules assets.
  • A rules analyzer for optimization (not released yet).

They’ve focused on fast methods of testing and refining rules, particularly by a business analyst. They also have a lot of change management and governance built in.

He covered how BRM and BPM will work together:

  • Complex rule-based decisions (pricing, credit decisions, etc.)
  • Responsibility determination (rule-based task assignment)
  • Recognition of business events
  • Routing rules
  • Parameter thresholds and tolerance (constraints)

Rules can be modeled in the rules composer or in the process composer. He showed us a (canned) demo of the rules composer that would have been a lot more compelling if he had narrated it in a bit more detail: I was sitting at the front of the room so could see the screen, but I’m sure that those at the back of the room couldn’t read it and there wasn’t enough narration to follow along with what was happening in the screen playback. Eight minutes into the video (only halfway!), we move from code-based rules to decision tables, which is a bit more interesting from a demo standpoint, but I really doubt if anyone who didn’t already know something about rules modeling would have gained a lot of information from watching this. It also made the composer look a lot more difficult that it actually is, as evidenced from an audience question about whether they expected business users to use this (in a disbelieving voice).

He finished up with the product roadmap:

  • This year, they’ve delivered the business rules composition and execution environment, available for invocation from the various SAP product lines, and integrated with the BPM composition environment.
  • In 2009, there will be more complex decision sequences, integrated support for rule refinement and validation, end-to-end change management, and improved business user participation and collaboration in rules authoring and change management.
  • In 2010, the plan (which of course can change) is to have real-time rule-based responses to business events, advanced rules analysis capabilities with alignment to business goals, and better modeling capabilities for business analysts.

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