Rule Technology – Taming the Internet of Things


Rik Chomko


Everything is connected

Last week I was in my basement and happened to notice that my sump pump was not working. For those of you not familiar, a sump pump is the device that keeps water out of your basement when it rains. In the Midwest we take these devices very seriously!

It was an old sump pump and time to go and I got lucky that I noticed it. If I hadn’t, 1/2 foot of water in my basement could have been a very likely possibility. I was determined to replace it with one that had an audible failure alert so I chose the Basement Watchdog. And while the audible alarm is nice, I wondered what happens if we are out of town? The cool thing about this model is that it also has a way to tie it into my home security system and therefore the internet. So conceivably I could get an alert via email if there was a failure.

The takeaway for me (which has been building up for some time) is that everything – even the lowly sump pump – is getting connected to the internet and emitting information.

So that led me to a bigger question: How do we make sense of all this information without getting overloaded?

Briefly, the Internet of Things

Over the last 2-3 years there has been a steady stream of articles about the Internet of Things (IoT). InformationWeek as well as other industry magazines have covered the topic extensively. Here and here and here are just a few examples.

In a nutshell, the Internet of Things is the idea that embedded sensors are being put into everything from mobile devices to refrigerators to cars to wristbands and yes, even sump pumps. These sensors are taking data from devices and emitting it to the internet which connects all these devices together. IoT is all about connected devices talking to internet and then to each other and the potential that can bring.

Making sense of it all

A big part of the potential mentioned above is the ability for consumers and businesses to tap into this stream of data and alert them to situations that are of interest. Rule technology (more specifically Business Rule Management Systems) is one technology that has the ability to make sense of this stream in a more flexible manner versus simply “hard-coding” a reaction to an event.

Take, for example, your home. It’s pretty easy to identify the scenarios that would be of interest. We’d all like to know when something has gone awry with our home. I certainly want to know when my sump pump goes out. And identifying when the sump pump goes out is a pretty easy alert (or rule). Same with a garage door when it’s left open for longer than 10 minutes. Simple rule “hard-coding” can solve these problems.

In business, the scenarios can get very complex and require a more robust approach. Consider trying to correlate a patient’s Electronic Medical Record (EMR) so the doctor(s) and the patient can benefit from a more coordinated approach to the patient’s overall healthcare. If we are trying to look at the patient’s lab results, medication, glucose monitor, and blood pressure monitor, we need a way to combine the events and look across the data.

This is where a Business Rule Management System (BRMS) steps in. Many of the alerts a business is interested in span across multiple information streams and events. A BRMS can take in these disparate events and provide a much more flexible way to define rules for the alerts that are of interest. Sometimes called event processing, this approach helps identify these more complex scenarios. For an introduction to the topic of event processing, check out this whitepaper.

In the Health Population Management scenario above, a BRMS can be used to correlate the standard EMR info like labs and medication with the internet-connected devices like a glucose monitor and blood pressure monitor to alert the doctor to a condition, identify a corrective course of action, or let the patient know their actions are helping their health progress in a positive way.

Hard-coding rules for the Population Management scenario would not be a good approach. The logic will likely need to change, it will need to be transparent so the doctor can review it, and there may need to be rules specific to the patient. Rule technology gives you the agility, transparency, and customization needed for these kinds of applications.


With so much information being generated by so many devices, something is needed to control it, make sense of it and then take meaningful action on it. Rule technology can help “tame the beast” as it offers up a flexible way to connect to the disparate data streams, write rules against it, and identify the scenario of interest to an individual or business.

I’m excited to explore the uses cases for BRMS and IoT. It has huge potential – especially for healthcare.

Feel free to comment on other ways where you see rule technology can help tame IoT.