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If you need a policy manual, do you need a rules engine too?

Interesting article on policy manuals by Tim Bryce on ITToolbox - Why we need policy manuals. I saw this thanks to Lucas Rodríguez Cervera who commented about it on his blog.  The original post makes the point that implementation is key. Lucas' point is, I think, that if implementation is key then processes to enforce policies should be automated. This made me wonder how you tell you need a business rules management system as well as a policy manual.

  • Your policy manual contains policies that must be applied to operational decisions - that is high volume, day to day ones.
  • You are trying to empower customers or others to use self-service tools where these decisions are relevant or you have front-line staff who must enforce these rules who are not terribly senior or long-tenured like CSRs.
  • The rules within these policies are:
    • Large in number and so hard to manage in systems or remember as an individual (e.g. medical bill review rules) or
    • Complex individually and so hard to code or use correctly (e.g. contracting rules) or
    • Rapidly changing and so expensive to maintain in code and hard to distribute quickly enough (e.g. marketing rules) or
    • Requiring of expertise to understand and so unlikely to be understood either by programmers or front-line staff (e.g. underwriting rules)

If these things are true then you should probably look into business rules and see how they can help with compliance to your policies.

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Lucas Rodriguez Cervera

Hi James,

You are right. I think, that if implementation is key then processes to enforce policies should be automated (when possible). This would be the best way to ensure that people carry out their work in compliance with the principles described in the policies (because they have less margin to act in a non compliant way). Defining detailed business rules and work instructions, and ensuring through automation that process are carried out according to the policies, is the best solution.

When processes are more difficult to articulate and structure (it is difficult or even non convenient to define the process with precision) it is more difficult to enforce compliance with policies, and other mechanisms have to be employed. This is the case of processes heavily based on knowledge, intuition and creativity (knowledge processes). Compliance in this case is more dependant on culture and buy in.

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