Use Rules Engines to Boost Web Potential

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"What we have here," intoned Strother Martin in the Hollywood epic "Cool Hand Luke," "is a FAIL-ya to communa-cate."


In the e-world, failure to communicate with customers early, clearly and appropriately can kill a business as quickly as you can say "dot-com."


Keys to survival include a sticky Web site - one that raises personalization to an art form in a quest to keep desirable customers coming back. Less glamorous, but equally important, is the ability to communicate business policy changes and other new information more quickly for better customer service and retention.


One way to do this effectively is to use a rules engine to enhance your Web site's capabilities. A rules engine is an application that allows you to make changes quickly and easily to your Web site in real time. Policy-makers can make changes at the site immediately in less time and at less expense than in the past.


The rules engine can determine how the Web site is presented to individual users, effectively becoming an executable version of your policies.


Policies can shift quickly in the real-time world of the Internet and a rules engine can help manage those rapid shifts. Policies can be rules that must be followed by law (for example: the government issues new regulations for selling securities in a foreign nation) or they can represent a change in marketing focus (for example: a store puts certain items on sale).


Whatever the scenario, a rules engine can help make the change easier to introduce. Implementing a policy change at the Web site without a rules engine is neither quick nor easy.


The development staff must rewrite, recompile and retest every bit of changed text before it is redeployed. This can take days or weeks. Rather than having to recode the site every time you want to change your policies, the rules engine itself can embody your policies.


Once your server is operating, you should never have to take it down. You can get a list of currently running rules, deploy new rules or change them around while leaving your Web site intact. This way you don't lose time, money or customers.


Putting business rules into one location - a place called the rules repository - has another benefit: The whole enterprise can share the same business logic across different applications.


The application can be located at the call center, customer service counter, fulfillment center or elsewhere. The need to specify the rules in many places is eliminated and you have a central location to post policy changes.


Rules engines can be used in many application areas that demand near real-time results and the consistent application of business policies. They give


the people who make decisions the ability to maintain the rapid-fire pace of their businesses while assuring customers a consistent experience.


Think of rules engines as places where the answers live, whether the answers are business rules or instructions for tapping into another software application.


The efficiency of housing answers in one place makes any Web site more intelligent and enhances communication.


Adding intelligence to a site means not just getting the right answers up on the site eventually, but deploying them when someone is using the site live and in real time.


Before this technology advance, rules engine policy-makers might have changed their minds on a particular rule, but it took a week to execute the change. Now, new policies can be implemented quickly, broadly and consistently.


Today, failure to communicate quickly and completely can mean failure.


Mark Brown is global data mining program manager at SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC. Randy Pierce, development manager for rules engine technology at SAS, and Jim Metcalf, product strategy manager for rules engine technology at SAS, contributed to this article.
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