Briefing : Blaze Advisor

Blaze Advisor
typical project $200,000
Fair Isaac Corporation
Minneapolis, Minnesota
(612) 758-5200

Blaze Advisor is a rules management solution for the enterprise. Although it's been around since 1997, you might never have heard of it unless you work in an enterprise where it's used. Nor, with its substantial price, is it likely to be an impulse purchase. But I've always found it useful to know what's going on in other realms of software development, so I made some time to talk with the folks from Fair Isaac about their offering.

Perhaps the easiest way to understand Blaze Advisor is by analogy with a typical relational database. When you use a SQL database in your application, you shuffle all the data storage duties off to the database and access the data through a well-defined API. With Blaze Advisor, you store all of the business rules in the rules management application, and get hold of them through an API when you use them. Thus, just as a database lets you change data without updating your application code, Blaze Advisor lets you modify business rules without touching your own code.

A single Blaze Advisor repository might contain tens of thousands of rules written in the company's own Structured Rule Language (SRL). A typical SRL statement might encapsulate a piece of knowledge such as that a supplier with a delivery more than 10 days overdue should be given a non-preferred status. SRL is very close to English - close enough that non-technical users won't have any trouble looking at rules to see if they match the business needs. Blaze Advisor also makes it possible to build Web forms for the non-technical users to perform rule maintenance. You can limit which pieces these users can change so as to prevent disasters as well.

For the developer, Blaze Advisor provides a complete graphical IDE. You can develop rules individually or group them into higher-level constructs such as a decision table (assign a value to some variable based on two other variables). There are also debugging tools, so you can see what's going on as an application calls into the rules repository. The rule server itself interconnects with all sorts of things, including XML, databases, COM, CORBA, and various other bits of middleware. Applications can use the rules through a variety of interfaces, and that list is growing. For example, Fair Isaac just announced a version of Blaze Advisor for COBOL, which lets you use this same technology with existing legacy applications.

If you've got an application that seems to be bending under the weight of the business rules - and you've got a reasonable amount of money to solve the problems with - have a look at Blaze Advisor. You might find that it pays off in the first project, and then you've got the server already paid for when you want to do the next project.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.


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