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Create decision-making business applications in practically no time

IT Best Practices Alert By Brian Musthaler, Network World
April 15, 2011 03:20 PM ET
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The CIO-level business angle on the latest tech

I started my IT career some three decades ago as a programmer/analyst, creating business applications for a large enterprise. In those days, it was common for our application development schedules to span many months and even years. Can you imagine telling an internal client today that you can have his mission critical application -- the one he needs to launch a new service next week -- ready in just about a year, give or take a few months? This is what we call a "career limiting move."

Many businesses today can't wait very long for applications to be developed, modified or enhanced. With the pace of business today, even waiting a few weeks can mean lost opportunities. This sense of urgency has given rise to a new breed of development tool called a business rules management system (BRMS). Such a tool might be used to quickly craft a set of programmed decisions that will yield results based on business rules. The beauty of a BRMS tool is that it doesn't require the in-depth skill of a programmer to script the decisions; a person familiar with business rules and logic can use the tool to create an application of sorts.

IN DEPTH: How to control costs by aligning applications with business objectives

For example, let's look at how the California Association of Realtors (C.A.R.) used the BRMS suite of tools from Corticon Technologies to enhance its business.

C.A.R. has about 150,000 member agents and brokers. The association provides these real estate professionals with programs and services that enhance their ability to conduct their individual businesses successfully. One essential service that C.A.R. provides is a decision-support application that helps real estate agents determine which legal forms to use for various types of transactions, such as the purchase of commercial property or the lease of an apartment. With more than 150 C.A.R.-approved forms such as contacts, offer statements, agreements and disclosure documents to choose from, it's not always obvious which forms are the right ones to use for the specific transaction. Using the wrong form can result in legal ramifications for the agent or broker.

C.A.R. Chief Technology Officer Josh Sharfman says it's a challenge for his organization to manage the forms because they change quite frequently -- especially now in these turbulent times for real estate. His organization tried to create a traditional application that would serve up the right forms as the real estate agents needed them. This approach failed, however, because of form changes that were happening faster than developers could keep up with them. What's more, the programmers weren't subject matter experts; lawyers were the experts on the legal forms, but they aren't programmers.

Then Sharfman's team discovered Corticon's BRMS, which includes the Corticon Business Rules Modeling Studio to create, validate and test the business rules; the Corticon Business Rules Server to execute the rules in a SOA environment; and the Corticon Enterprise Data Connector to directly connect the rules engine to a relational database, eliminating the need for integration code.

Linda Musthaler is a principal analyst with Essential Solutions Corporation.

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