ILOG Rules for .NET 2.0. Brings BRMS to Microsoft Shops

The emergence and rapid proliferation of business rules management systems (BRMS) over the past couple of years is strong evidence that IT/business alignment is a front-burner issue. These software tools, designed to automate business-rules decision making in enterprise IT applications, are fast becoming a must-have.

In a recent report from industry analyst firm IDC, "Momentum Continues for Leading Vendors in Business Rules Management Systems Market," Group VP Stephen D. Hendricks predicts that BRMSs will become "the key component of the application infrastructure stack," beginning next year. Hendricks also notes that the BRMS market has experienced a high rate of growth in the last several years compared with "the lean growth" of most application development and deployment tools markets.

BRMS is pretty well established in the Java world, observes Henry Bowers, director of product marketing for Business Rules at ILOG, but it's just beginning to make inroads into Microsoft .NET shops.

“The Java technical community gets what business rules are all about, and they understand the benefits of outboarding the business rules themselves from the rest of the application source code,” Bowers says. “The same thing is starting to happen on the Microsoft side, now that Microsoft has its own rules engine [the BizTalk Server], and they’re talking about business rules to their customers.”

ILOG, which IDC recently named the BRMS market leader for the second year in a row, sells ILOG JRules for Java environments, as well as ILOG Rules for C++ developers. The company just announced a new version of its Microsoft-targeted BRMS offering: ILOG Rules for .NET 2.0.

The 1.0 version, released last year, was the first product to build business rules authoring, deployment and persistence into Visual Studio .NET. A typical BRMS consists of separate business-rules authoring and business-rules execution applications. In Rules for .NET 1.0, ILOG built its rule repository on top of Windows Sharepoint Services, created a rule engine written purely in C#, then packaged them as a .NET assembly that could be used as a component in any .NET application architecture.

In the 1.0 version, ILOG used Microsoft Word as an additional interface for rule authoring, providing a document metaphor. Users could open a Word doc and create new rules, edit existing ones and print them. They could also mix in non-executable rule content to provide context and background for why a policy is the way it is or why they made a change.

“You can’t expect a typical business person to work with Visual Studio .NET,” Bowers says. “They’re not going to be pulling up the IDE on their laptop and cranking away on their rules. But they do have Microsoft office, which, in a sense, is the business user’s IDE.”

In Rules for .NET 2.O, ILOG leverages Microsoft Excel as a tool for developing and managing business rules management applications.

Where MS Word allowed business users to create business rules in an English-like if-then-else structure, Excel becomes the decision table, which is a compact way of representing a collection of related rules. “A decision table looks an awful lot like a spreadsheet,” he says, “so it’s a very natural way for business people to represent their policies.”

The new version is also integrated with Microsoft BizTalk Server, which allows users to automate and manage business processes across multiple applications. And it includes new support for Ruleflows, to give developers a more precise way to orchestrate business rule tasks graphically.

“A lot of the magic of BRMS is figuring out how to keep all of the changes coming from both of these different environments—the technical people and the business people—in sync, and making sure that when it comes time to deploy a set of polices modeled as rules, that you know exactly what you are deploying.”

ILOG plans to release Rules for .NET 2.0 later this fall. More information is available at ILOG.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].