Workflow Engine vs. Business Rules Engine: Understanding the Difference

Automation is vital to driving efficiency and productivity in today’s fast-paced business environment. Two key components that enable organizations to streamline processes and achieve better results are business rules engines, such as a .NET rules engine, and workflow engines.

While both are used to automate processes, they serve different purposes and have unique capabilities. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these engines and their key differences.

What Is a Business Rules Engine?

A business rules engine (BRE) is a software component designed to automatically manage and execute business rules. A business rules engine, such as Code Effects engine, can be used independently or embedded in a business process management suite. 

A BRE helps organizations implement predefined rules based on specific criteria, including company policies, goals, values, and other parameters. Depending on its type, a business rules engine can utilize a variety of rule representation formats, such as decision trees, decision tables, pseudo-natural language, or programming-like code.

Once the rules are set, the system evaluates data from different sources, such as spreadsheets and databases, and identifies the action to be taken

Key features of a BRE

  • Centralized rule management. BREs provide a central repository for storing and managing business rules, enabling easy access and modification.
  • Flexibility and agility. Rules engines help companies to easily define and modify business rules, allowing them to quickly adapt to changing business environments. Also, most BREs have intuitive drag-and-drop interfaces, meaning non-technical staff can easily use them.
  • Decision automation. Business rules engines are designed to automate decision-making processes, reducing the need for manual intervention.

Use cases

  • Supply chain management. Business rules engines can be used to optimize inventory levels by setting rules for when to reorder goods based on sales data.
  • Financial institutions. Banks and lenders use BREs to confirm whether a loan meets the requirements before the borrower is approved.
  • HR management. BREs can streamline various HR processes, including recruitment, onboarding, and performance management. For example, rules can be set to assign training courses based on job roles.
  • Insurance. Insurance companies can use BREs to automate underwriting processes. By analyzing data such as a policyholder’s age, driving record, health, etc., a BRE can determine eligibility for coverage and calculate the premium.
  • Retail. Retailers are massively adopting BREs to set rules for giving discounts or other perks to customers. For instance, customers get free shipping when they spend over a specific amount. 

What Is a Workflow Engine?

A workflow engine, or an orchestration engine, is a software system that automates complex business processes. In most cases, it links to a database server and employs pre-coded scripts to run and maintain workflows.

A workflow engine orchestrates the sequence and coordination of tasks, activities, and participants involved in a particular business process. These systems are commonly used in scenarios that call for structured processes with defined steps. They can complete tasks or create notifications for task completion.

Key features of a workflow engine

  • Process orchestration. A workflow engine helps coordinate complex business processes that involve multiple participants and tasks. It ensures that the right tasks are assigned to the right people, providing ultimate visibility into the workflow’s progress.
  • Task automation. Workflow engines automate repetitive and manual tasks, reducing errors, enhancing efficiency, and ensuring consistent and timely results.
  • Integration capabilities. A workflow engine can integrate with various systems and applications, facilitating data exchange and providing seamless flow across different process stages.

Use cases

  • HR management. Workflow engines are widely used in HR management. For example, a workflow engine can automate the entire employee onboarding process, from submitting necessary documents and HR approvals to training scheduling.
  • Content publishing. A workflow engine can assign tasks to content creators, editors, and approvers, ensure proper review cycles, schedule publication dates, and even integrate with content management systems for seamless content deployment.
  • Customer support. Workflow engines are used to automate the ticketing process. They can receive, categorize, assign, and prioritize support tickets based on predefined rules, route tickets to the appropriate support agents or teams, escalate critical issues, track ticket status, and provide real-time updates to customers.
  • Finance management. Workflow engines can automate sending invoices to clients, reminding them when payment is due, and filing receipts.
  • Warehousing. Workflow can replace inventory monitoring software, checking item sales against inventory, creating order lists, and placing orders as needed.

Business Rules Engines vs. Workflow Engines: Key Differences

While both business rules and workflow engines contribute to process automation, they differ in several ways.

  • Focus. A BRE primarily deals with executing business rules, ensuring consistency in decision-making. On the other hand, a workflow engine focuses on orchestrating a broad range of tasks.
  • Scope. While a business rules engine operates at a granular level, dealing with individual decisions or conditions, a workflow engine manages the end-to-end flow of business processes.
  • Usage. Business rules engines are ideal for scenarios where decision-making plays a crucial role, such as pricing calculations or compliance checks. Workflow engines do a great job at managing processes with structured flows, approvals, and dependencies, like employee onboarding or purchase order approvals.
  • Integration. While both engines can integrate with external systems, workflow engines feature more extensive integration support. For example, they can integrate with CRM platforms, ERP systems, document management systems, databases, etc.

To Wrap It Up

Business rules and workflow engines empower organizations to become more efficient in today’s dynamic business landscape. By understanding each engine’s unique strengths and use cases, you can strategically implement the appropriate solution to accelerate growth.