The Importance of Consistent Business Rules
Here in the UK, we’ve recently seen some very high profile companies receive some extremely bad publicity. A number of large organizations are alleged to have dodged paying tax on their earnings and have faced a tough grilling from the UK Government and Public Accounts Committee.
In fact, a recent report cited in The Economist alleges that ninety-eight of the companies in the FTSE100 used offshore havens to avoid tax. That’s a staggering statistic and in a time of austerity and recession represents a significant loss of national income.
Putting all moral arguments aside, this is an interesting case study in policy, procedures, and most importantly what we business analysts would call business rules. One of the inherent aspects of tax avoidance is that companies can choose to operate globally and locate subsidiaries anywhere in the world.
This means that multinational organizations often operate in multiple jurisdictions—each of which has different tax rules. Some organizations choose to use this to minimize their tax liability, much to the annoyance of governments elsewhere. This anomaly happens, in part, because the organization is spanning multiple tax systems, each of which has a different set of rules and a different owner.
In addition, it’s unlikely that international tax authorities speak to each other very often, which creates a complex system with an equally complex system of sometimes contradictory/sometimes complementary rules.
If we focus on the essence of the example above, it could be said that a different but parallel situation exists in many large organizations. Often there are multiple information systems in existence with different systems performing different functions. Some so-called legacy systems and applications may have been inherited from mergers or may have been created years ago.
The systems might not even interface or talk with each other. In some cases the business rules implemented in each system might be inconsistent, and in a worst case the system might be so old that nobody knows what rules are coded into it. And when this is true, the potential exists for real chaos!
I once carried out some analysis work for an organization where differing business rules created real problems. The organization in question accepted customer applications via the web, and each application was loaded onto a legacy mainframe system overnight. However, cases would often be rejected by the mainframe, requiring manual investigation. This created a significant amount of manual work, and initially the technical interface was thought to be the problem.
An investigation took place that uncovered that the web front and end mainframe were actually enforcing different sets of business rules. This disparity caused real issues, and every single affected customer had to wait while his individual records were overridden manually. This created a compelling business case for bringing the two systems in line.
These are two very different scenarios, but they highlight the importance and benefits of applying common business rules where there are multiple systems.