In 2011, will SOA policy and business rules tools step up?

Business rules engines and SOA policy governance tools may help to make Business-IT alignment a vivid trend in the coming year.

For businesses in 2011, look for more of the same – more change, that is. This is the word from Forrester Analyst Randy Heffner, as he looks at the twin fields of business rules and SOA policy. Both are overshadowed in the rush to new cloud computing architectures. But, as we enter another year when the pace of business change grows more rapid, both will be a crucial point of focus.

Still, the alignment between IT and business will not be without its unfulfilled wishes – ones that promise that the business-side will soon be handling the bulk of the programming of rules and policy systems.

Going forward, the focus will be on aligning information technology efforts with business objectives. Business rules engines and tools, as well as SOA policy governance tools and repositories, will help (in a stealthy kind of way) to make this alignment happen.

One thing won't change. That is, in Heffner's words, the long-standing desire of the industry to come up with some magic tool – a "developer-like Speak-and-Spell" tool for business analysts - that bypasses IT and turns business people into full-fledged developers. Heffner told SearchSOA.com that business today is just too complex for that to happen.

Heffner indicated business-side analysts and decision makers have tools now to initiate much of the task of rules creation. But, he added that rules and policy in themselves have a life cycle, and much of this cycle is the province of other parts of the organization, including the development group.

This was a topic of Heffner's recent Forrester blog. In ''Business 2011 Gets Faster; Business Rules And SOA Policy Get More Important,'' he writes:

Some have tried the route that businesspeople ought to do their own programming — and many vendor tools through the years have tried creatively (though unsuccessfully) to make development simple enough for that. But, business is too complex for businesspeople to do all of their own programming.

In an interview, he added to those considerations.

"Business people can write the rules, but the life cycle around changing the policy or business rule sets requires intentional design. This assures appropriate governance around business changes. Some products help with this life cycle – others leave it up to you to develop," he said.

In any case, rules-making tools for the business side should not be viewed as an opportunity for "a free for all where you give them a gun and let them shoot themselves in the foot," he said.

Heffner has long held that successful IT shops pursue well-managed, flexible business capabilities. This means "understanding where your solutions need flexibility and pursuing that flexibility in a way that matches with the design of the business," he said.

Use of SOA policy engines and tools as well as use of BPM rules engines and tools can play a role in obtaining that business flexibility. While these tools may not get the headlines, we could see much more of them in 2011.

This was first published in December 2010

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