What is a rule-based system? What is it not?

As you look to automate parts of your business, you’ve no doubt come across the term ‘rule-based system’. (Alongside other, flashier terms like AI, RPA and software “robots”.) But what is a rule-based system, exactly?

Rule-based logic is at the heart of most automated processes. The term refers to the way in which automation software — like ThinkAutomation — works. Unfortunately, there are a lot of easy-to-make misconceptions of what a rule-based system is and does.

So, to help clarify any confusion, here’s a closer look at rule-based systems and how they work.

What is a rule-based system?

A rule-based system is a system that applies human-made rules to store, sort and manipulate data. In doing so, it mimics human intelligence.

To work, rule-based systems require a set of facts or source of data, and a set of rules for manipulating that data. These rules are sometimes referred to as ‘If statements’ as they tend to follow the line of ‘IF X happens THEN do Y’.

Automation software like ThinkAutomation is a good example. It automates processes by breaking them down into steps.

  • First comes the data or new business event
  • Then comes the analysis: the part where the system conditonally processes the data against its rules
  • Then comes any subsequent automated follow-up actions

So, what is a rule-based system? It’s a logical program that uses pre-defined rules to make deductions and choices to perform automated actions.

How does a rule-based system work?

Rule-based systems, unsurprisingly, work based on rules. These rules outline triggers and the actions that should follow (or are triggered). For example, a trigger might be an email containing the word “invoice”. An action might then be to forward the email to the finance team.

These rules most often take the form of if statements. ‘IF’ outlines the trigger, ‘THEN’ specifies the action to complete. So, if you want to create a rule-based system capable of handling 100 different actions, you’d have to write 100 different rules. If you want to then update the system and add actions, then you would need to write new rules.

In short, you use rules to tell a machine what to do, and the machine will do exactly as you tell it. From there, rule-based systems will execute the actions until you tell it to stop.

But remember: if you tell it to do something incorrectly, it will do it incorrectly.

What is a rule-based system not?

Due to early use in the fields, rule-based systems are commonly confused with artificial intelligence and machine learning. However, they are not AI, and they are not machine learning.

It’s easy to confuse the two as they can look very similar. Both involve machines completing tasks, seemingly on their own. The difference is that AI can determine the action to take itself; it can learn and adapt. Meanwhile, rule-based systems do exactly as instructed by a human.

In other words, unlike artificial intelligence and machine learning, the actions carried out by rule-based systems (the rules that they follow) are determined by a human.

The system doesn’t work it out for itself, or intelligently make decisions.

A rule-based system won’t change or update on its own, and it won’t ‘learn’ from mistakes.

Following the rules

What is a rule-based system? It’s not AI, and it’s not machine learning. (Thought it might be used within them, to power certain aspects.)

Rather, rule-based systems simply follow rules laid out by humans. But in doing so, they are incredibly useful.

Not convinced? Why not try ThinkAutomation and see just how useful a rule-based system can be for your business.

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