Much of the interest in business rules stems from the desire to be able to quickly configure components of applications without the need for programmer intervention. Commercially available business rules engines are already able to do this to varying degrees, and special purpose rules engine functionality is increasingly being built into specific applications to make them more flexible. Even so, increasing the efficiency of building applications is only one of the benefits of adopting business rules approaches. Another very important potential benefit is the ability to understand the logic that exists within applications. This is something that at first glance may seem a little remote from business rules approaches, but in reality it is very closely linked to them, both as a direct benefit and a potential trap.
Studies have shown that programmers spend an excessive amount of time reverse-engineering applications so that they can understand them in order to make changes, fix bugs and integrate data with other applications. Some studies indicate that programmers spend over 40 percent of their time in reverse-engineering, and my own personal experience suggests that this figure may be an underestimate. The reasons why so much reverse-engineering goes on are well known: documentation is nearly always incomplete, outdated or untrustworthy. Documentation really means the specification of how an application works but which is produced after the application is built. At the point in time that an application goes live, there is no immediate need for a specification and so no return on the very large investment that is needed to produce the specification. Indeed, developers are usually so busy just before an application goes live that there are hardly ever resources available to produce adequate documentation. The result is that nearly all applications are black boxes whose inner workings are unknown.
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