Business rule software improves performance without altering code
Minnesota officials will be able to process unemployment claims more efficiently after the state's officials redesign the unemployment insurance system. Business analysts soon will be able to more easily change the business and policy rules that govern the system.
Officials in the state's Employment and Economic Development Department knew that the current system would not handle the hundreds of thousands of claims filed each year. The system was written in Cobol, which is "very old code," said Matthew Porett, the department's chief information officer.
The system upgrade would allow department employees to move from job to job within the
office and would increase Internet-based self-service, Porett said.
In September 2003, the state signed a two-year, $16 million contract with BearingPoint Inc. to redesign the department's business processes and establish a system to implement those changes to improve services. Officials will roll out the first part of the new system this summer and will focus on enhancing the older system's benefits services. They will prepare for rollouts of the tax and benefits pieces in 2005 and 2006, respectively, Porett said.
BearingPoint officials are using their Unemployment Framework for Automated Claims and Tax Services (uFACTS) solution, said Scott Malm, the project leader for Minnesota's Unemployment Insurance Technology Initiative Project at BearingPoint. UFACTS is an industry-specific framework designed to help organizations provide services in compliance with state and federal rules.
BearingPoint officials are also using FileNet Corp.'s product for document management, Business Objects SA's Crystal Decisions for reporting, and ILOG Inc.'s JRules engine for managing business and policy rules that dictate how the system works.
Business rules management systems, such as ILOG's product, are not new, but they have been refined to serve organizations' business sides instead of their technology sides.
Instead of waiting for coding changes to filter through the information technology department, such systems offer the flexibility to make a difference in the unemployment world, Malm said. Rules for handling claims constantly change because of policy and legislative shifts at the federal and state levels, he said.
Porett agreed, saying that "if the legislature passes a rate change, that's a major undertaking for a programmer to go in and make changes to a legacy application," he said. "With a rules engine, you wouldn't need a programmer and you could make the changes instantaneously instead of waiting for the end of a quarter or end of the year."
Like uFACTS, JRules is a framework that can be added to existing applications, said Bob Cooper, vice president of the Industry Solutions Division at ILOG. As an addition to the applications, the framework allows the rules to be stored in a separate repository so they can serve multiple applications. It also separates the business rules from the application release changes so the policies don't have to get caught up in the IT investment cycle, Cooper said.
The business analysts, who help develop, approve and implement rules as part of the unemployment program's services, have direct access to the JRules interface. There are plenty of tools within the JRules framework for nontechnical employees, including the ability to visualize the effects that a change to one rule will have on another.
All of this provides a sense of control for most users that didn't exist before, Cooper said.
And although the rules engine is not the driving force behind the transition from the legacy system to uFACTS, "it certainly facilitates the debate," Porett said.
Out of work
Profile of Minnesota unemployment applicants by age for 2003.
Total applicants: 227,381
Under 22: 12,511
22 to 29: 46,223
50 to 59: 37,191
60 to 64: 7,680
65 and over: 3,113
Information not available: 360
Source: Minnesota WorkForce Center