Frequently Asked Questions

An introduction to business rules engines

What is a Business Rules Engine?

It depends on whom you ask. Some will say that a business rules engine (BRE) is a software application that helps organizations write, manage, and execute business rules (or something to that effect). Others will say what they’re describing is a business rules management system (BRMS) and that a BRE is the execution component of a BRMS. Regardless, BRMS evolved from BREs but the term “business rules engine” stuck and continues to evolve in its meaning. In fact, some define BRE as the embedded tools within a software application like a CRM or BPMS that enable you to automate decisions, tasks, or even processes. 


How does a Business Rules Engine Work?

Here are common components of a typical BRE:

Rule Authoring

BREs offer a tool or multiple tools through an interface for business analysts and other domain experts to write business rules.

Rule Storage

Business rules are stored in a central repository or database that can be managed by the BRE.

Rule Execution

BREs are often integrated with other systems, application, or workflows. An organization can set up when certain business rules will execute in relation to the business ecosystem. For example, when a customer submits an online loan application, the data from that application may be sent to a loan origination system which then triggers the BRE to retrieve relevant business rules from the repository and run then against the data to determine the applicant’s eligibility.


Most BREs log events and provide monitoring and auditing tools. This ensures that business rules are behaving as expected and makes it easier to troubleshoot when issues arise. Tools can include reports and alerts.


Business rules often change over time in response to new business objectives and requirements. This is why many BREs support versioning to make it easier for organizations to manage different versions of business rules, reverting back to older versions when necessary. 


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When Does it Make Sense to Use a Business Rules Engine?

Using a BRE makes sense in various situations where an organization needs more flexibility, agility, and transparency in managing the underlying logic behind an automated task.

Frequent Rule Changes and Dynamic Business Environments

Organizations can benefit from using a BRE when the business rules change frequently, usually due to evolving regulations, market conditions, or internal policies. Rather than needing to modify the application code and go through the whole software development lifecycle, users can quickly update and deploy rules without messing with the whole system. Startups and businesses launching a new product can especially take advantage of BREs to accelerate prototyping and development. 

Complex Decision-Making

Organizations can also benefit from using a BRE when automated decision-making processes involve a large number of rules, multiple conditions, and complicated calculations. Rather than putting the onus on software developers to code and maintain the decision logic, BREs allow the subject matter experts to manage and execute the rules. 

Regulatory Compliance

Industries that are subject to regulatory changes such as financial services, insurance, and healthcare can also benefit from using a BRE. It provides the transparency and tools to quickly identify what changes need to be made where in order to comply to new regulations.

Multiple Lines of Business or Systems

In organizations with multiple lines of business or multiple systems that need to share certain business rules, a BRE can serve as a central hub for those rules. This will avoid unnecessary redundancies, inconsistencies, and errors.  


What are the Advantages of Business Rules Engines?

BREs offer several advantages:

  • Isolation of Business Logic: First, BREs enable organizations to isolate business rules from the applications, systems, and processes that use them. This allows business analysts and domain experts to mange the rules independently.
  • Separate Lifecycle: Because business rules are treated as a separate asset, business rules management can operate on its own lifecycle. Users can make updates when necessary rather than waiting on prioritization in the developer queue and going through the standard software development lifecycle. Therefore, organizations can adapt to new market opportunities and regulatory changes faster. This also allows organizations to experiment faster and more frequently.
  • Consistency, Scalability, and Ease of Maintenance: A centralized rule repository enforces consistency across the systems that use the rules, makes it easy to apply existing rules to new systems, and simplifies maintenance. 
  • Cost-Efficiency: As non-technical users can define, modify, and manage rules, an organization can reduce IT and development costs that would be been necessary to code, implement, and maintain business logic.  
  • Transparency: As most BREs provide logging, organizations can monitor and audit rule execution for compliance and further analysis.

Are Business Rules Engines Obsolete?

No, business rules engines continue to be relevant and widely used in various industries to manage and execute business rules efficiently. However, the technology landscape continues to evolve. In general, rules engines are becoming more low-code and no-code and incorporating AI and machine learning. Also, there seems to be an convergence of technologies. Process and workflow automation tools are offering more rules management capabilities. Conversely, rules engines are offering more process and workflow capabilities. 


How do You Build a Business Rules Engine?

Building a BRE involves multiple tasks and cross-functional teamwork. If your organization choose to go down that path, you may want to leverage open-source technologies to speed up development and reduce costs. Here’s a high-level overview of steps involved:

  1. Define Requirements: Understand how the business rules fit into your overall business, what types of rules you need to support, and where the BRE needs to integrate with other systems.
  2. Choose a Development Language: Decide on the programming language that fits your needs. Common languages include Java, C#, and Python. 
  3. Design the Data Model: Create the data model that will be used to generate and execute rules. You may also need to include metadata for managing rules.
  4. Design the Rule Authoring Interface: Develop a rule authoring interface. Ideally this should be user-friendly such as including graphical tools and natural language processing.
  5. Create Rule Storage: Implement a mechanism to store rules. Consider how you’ll handle versioning and deployment.
  6. Develop Rule Execution Engine: Design the engine that will retrieve and execute rules. Consider scalability and performance. Depending on your requirements, you may implement forward chaining, backward chaining, or a hybrid approach.
  7. Build Integrations: Build the necessary APIs, connectors, or plugins to integrate the BRE to other systems.
  8. Develop Testing and Debugging Tools: Build tools for testing and monitoring tools such as simulations and rule tracing. 
  9. Implement Secutiy Measures: Apply necessary access controls, encryption, and other security practices.
  10. Documentation and User Training: Provide comprehensive documentation and training for developers, administrators, and users. 
  11. Continous Improvement: Regularly update and improve your BRE based on user feedback.


What are the Best Business Rules Engines?

It depends on the specific requirements, budget, and available resources of your organization. For some, it might makes sense to build your own rules engine. For others, a specific application may make the most sense such as loan origination software. If your organization is lacking internal resources to build a rules engine from scratch and would like more customization than what pre-built applications offer, then consider SMARTS™ as your business rules engine. Join global leaders in financial services, insurance, healthcare, retail, utilities, and IoT that use SMARTS™ to manage complex business rules daily. 

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