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Business rules cover a wide range of complexity, from simple decision points in a business process, through rules that define eligibility (for example for a loan), but probably the most complex are related to legislation. Legislation related to welfare benefits, employment status and tax law are complex in their own right, covering many pages of tight legal language, but when related case law is added the rules become difficult to articulate and difficult to interpret consistently.
The European Commission has recognised that there is a need to formalise the process of turning law into business rules that can be automated. To this end they have set up the European project for Standardised Transparent Representations in order to Extend Legal Accessibility (ESTRELLA to its friends, although to fit standards on acronyms it really should be Estrela! Whilst being pernickety, there is a lack of standardisation of the spelling of standardization—if you want to find anything in Google you need to use the ‘z’ variant).
The motivation behind Estrella is the fact that although legislation is complex, citizens and business need to understand the law and know that the law is being correctly and fairly applied to them (attempts at simplification help, but do not resolve the problem). Legal Knowledge Systems (LKS) that enable the law to be automated are the only solution to these issues. However they will not be widely used unless there are standards for them and especially standards for Legal Knowledge Interchange Formats (LKIF) that define how the legislation can be codified into a language that can be shared or implemented by multiple LKS.
Estrella has brought together vendors, academics, consultants and legislators to develop standards and run pilot projects to test them out.
RuleBurst is an Australian company, with an office in the UK, that has specialised in rules technology for legislation and has successful projects supporting welfare benefits in Australia and the UK. It is also working with HMRC in the UK on an employment status project.
RuleBurst is a member of Estrella and will bring important experience and technology to the project:
- Experience with rules capture projects means they understand the process and technology needs for LKS.
- RuleBurst’s current rules capture technology stores the rules in an XML dialect which is already used to export rules to different technology. This dialect should provide the basis of an LKIF.
- Complex legislation, especially when combined with case law, requires the ability to clean the rules by looking for: loops in the rules, rules that are not referenced, and contradictory results. RuleBurst has cleansing technology which should help to ensure the success of the pilot projects.
- Testing of the rules is a significant issue. RuleBurst can generate test cases and use these to do mass testing. It can also do regression testing taking existing cases and ensuring that the rules come to the same conclusions as the subject matter experts.
- A similar technique to regression testing can be used to understand the impact of changes in the legislation. This should reduce the possibility of unintended consequences.
RuleBurst’s experience and technology will help the Estrella project to be successful and create standards that will enable the implementation of successful Legal Knowledge Systems.
RuleBurst technology is proving itself at the complex end of the rules market and this suggests that it should also be able to support the simpler end and I would expect to see some examples of such projects during the next year.