Twenty-three years ago I started building my first Business Rule System. What's changed in the world of business rules since then?
In some ways, not a lot. The first system I built had fairly two key characteristics. It didn't take long to build, and when it needed changing that didn't take long either. I continue to base my solutions on these characteristics, so my Business Rule solutions are quicker to construct and have much lower maintenance costs.
Nowadays, technologies and techniques have changed a great deal, but the same benefits apply. If you are tackling a Business Rules problem, a Business Rule approach is the quickest way to come up with the solution and the best way to give you one that has a very low maintenance cost even if the frequency of change is high.
What we call now Business Rules Systems were Expert Systems back in the early 1990s. They were the silver bullets that would supposedly solve all the problems with computer systems. They didn’t because they couldn't – but the overhyping of what could be done generated a backlash, which obscured the real benefits of the Business Rules approach. Meanwhile, people were getting more excited about first GUIs, and then a few years later, the Internet.
Rehabilitation was slow but steady. It took a few years, but the true importance of Business Rules has become more accepted over the last decade. Today they are becoming an everyday topic of conversation in IT developments. From an implementation perspective, great strides have been made as well, with sophisticated Business Rule 'Management Systems' replacing relatively basic Rule 'Engines.' Another important development is that other paradigms, which have been evolving during this period and which once seemed alternatives to Business Rules (like Business Process Management and Predictive Analytics) are now understood as synergistic not competitive.
My own perspective on Business Rules has changed over the years. Business Rules trace their roots to Artificial Intelligence research and when I started working with them I had visions I might end up building 'intelligent' applications. It became clear fairly early on this wasn't really going to happen. Business Rules are a poor way of trying to capture how people think. What they do manage very well - particularly nowadays when linked up to BPM systems - is capture and implement how people want their organizations to work.
Business Rule Systems are going to continue to evolve, and, like a lot of things in IT, they are going to look very different in another ten years, but for now they are settled in their correct place in the landscape of computer systems and they are here to stay. Being at the heart of how organizations actually work, they can only grow in importance.