Business Rules: What They Are and Why You Need Them for Investment Marketing Content Automation

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By Kim Rebecca

Using business rules in factsheet automation

Throughout my career in the global asset management industry, I’ve had the opportunity to help facilitate the data-heavy content automation of thousands of regulatory documents, marketing collateral, presentations, web pages and so on. Actually, it’s probably hundreds of thousands because as you know, one of the key advantages of content automation is the easy accommodation of the ever-expanding scope of distribution, allowing product marketers such as myself to bolster their bragging rights. I’ve had the good fortune to help three global asset managers with their content automation efforts ­­— prominent and well-recognized firms managing assets galore. I was thus somewhat surprised to find that a common challenge in the implementation phase of all of their automations was something seemingly basic: the identification and articulation of something called business rules.

What are ‘business rules’ anyway?

The term “business rule” is common terminology for formally trained project managers such as PMPs, particularly when the projects involved encompass technology, as content automation does. Business analysts and even exec-level marketing leadership are also well versed in business rule lingo. It may not, however, be a familiar term to marketing middle management, the very people typically tasked with implementing content automation at an average asset manager. When asked by the automation vendor for their business rules, a product marketing manager might very well draw a blank. So … what, exactly, are business rules? Put simply, business rules are statements that give direction as to when you may or may not do something and/or give the criteria and conditions for making a decision. In other words, if this, then that. If, in a football game, you’re in the fourth down and the game is tied and there are less than two minutes left and your opponent is the New England Patriots, then you run toward the end zone, you don’t kick the ball and risk giving it back to Brady. Or, in the content automation world, if the source data comes to the automation vendor in Excel and one quarter there’s a random blank cell, then the asset manager’s data team must be alerted of a potential error (in this example, the rule would also likely delineate how that notification would happen).

Why are business rules needed to automate investment marketing content?

Prior to implementation, you’ll need to accurately assess and account for the time, scope, money and human resources needed to get content automation up and running. Here are a few examples of reasons why:

First and foremost, they’ll keep you on schedule.

I cannot stress enough that to maximize the potential of an efficient launch of your automation project, avoid identifying business rules on an ad-hoc basis in the midst of your implementation phase. Also, be sure to thoroughly vet your business rules before passing them along to — and paying for — your automation vendor to translate them into code. You would be surprised by how many of your internal business partners want to weigh in on even the most innocuous business rule. Identification and vetting of content automation business rules ahead of time will make all the difference in the world; it’ll prevent implementation from extending from two quarters to two years — I’ve seen that happen.

They’ll keep you competitive.

Part of the process of identifying business rules will likely involve examining how the competition presents their data. How many decimals do they use? Do they use pies or bars or another visual? How to their performance tables reformat as time periods are added or removed? And by examining the standard, you can also reset it. Envision a fact sheet like no other.

They’ll mitigate risk.

Business rules can be closely linked to governance. If they weren’t identified from existing governance procedures already in place, they can actually be used as blue print for procedural documents going forward. This aids in transparency (always important in the highly regulated world of asset management) and all but eliminates key person risk.

They’ll create efficiencies.

It’s likely that in the process of gathering and vetting your business rules, you’ll spot opportunities where your business rules can be multi-purposed across collateral type, distribution channel, product type. Some might apply to both print collateral and web displays, for example. Others might apply to both retail and institutional products, or perhaps even to those sold abroad. The more thorough you are with your gathering and vetting, the more applications you and your stakeholders will undoubtedly uncover.

How to identify content automation business rules — some hints

A good content automation vendor will provide you with tools and guidance on putting together your business rules, but here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Brainstorm with all current project managers and all internal business partners — many business rules are simply in their heads. I like doing this in a group setting; memory-jogging potential is maximized.
  • Meticulously document all activities throughout a manual production cycle and have your key stakeholders do the same.
  • Review your current policies, procedures, and standards as applicable. For example, business rules on how certain data should appear on a fact sheet may very well already be spelled out in your Creative Department’s standards manual.
  • Interview your automation vendor’s project manager and possibly their other clients who have already completed implementation of their content automation and are open to conversation.

Vetting your content automation business rules — some recommendations

Every firm has its own personality and thus its own customs when it comes to building cross-departmental consensus. That said, reflecting back on my many implementations, I’d like to offer some suggestions that have proven helpful regardless of when and where they’re employed in the conversation.

  • Put together a worksheet that lists each proposed business rule, the rationale for the rule, the potential multiple applications of the rule, interested parties, etc. Ask your automation vendor if they have template like this already waiting in the wings.
  • Create visual aids. Using screenshots, illustrate how a business rule will dictate how a data point in a spreadsheet, for example, appears on a fact sheet, web page, and/or presentation. This will help stakeholders who are removed from the nitty gritty of the project envision what you’re talking about. It’s pretty amazing how many different representations of the same data exist even within in a single firm. You’ll find that such visual mapping is extremely helpful for those who don’t know your marketing materials minutiae. What’s more, having a visual associated with a business rule can help prompt connections to other rules you may have missed conceptually.
  • Confirm that you have the correct stakeholder sign off. Sometimes the person signing is not high enough on the bureaucratic totem pole. Sometimes they’re too high and some of the details they don’t know are critical to the decision at hand.
  • Hate to say it, but have a meeting. For those business rules that seem to elicit strong opinions that cannot be expeditiously ironed out in email, you should probably have a meeting to establish consensus. Bring your copies of your worksheet and your visual aids for all participants and/or project them; this will help facilitate the conversation.
  • Finally, it will also behoove you to discuss, create, and document procedures for adding/modifying business rules — this scenario will inevitably arise, and an established, agreed-upon procedure helps integrate any changes smoothly and swiftly.

One final note — keep a 3-D perspective

I have found that because the term “business rule” is IT vernacular, business rules requested and provided in content automation projects almost exclusively address data-related matters. But consider this: business rules in our context are created with a final marketing vision in mind. Is your final vision of a fact sheet, for example, merely a sheet of paper or a PDF displaying a bunch of numbers? Of course not. It needs to be attractive and legible, it needs to support your brand, it needs to be compliant! In the content automation world, business rules must be three-dimensional, or 3D: they must address Data, of course, but also Design and Disclosure. Content automation business rules should be all inclusive, giving guidance on anything from data presentation to color specifications for a bar chart. So, when gathering and vetting your business rules, keep this big, 3D picture in mind.


This post is part of our series on Best Practices for Implementing Content AutomationTo be notified when new posts are published on this topic, please subscribe to receive our emails.

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Kim Rebecca is a marketing communications professional with 22 years of experience in the investment management industry. She has extensive experience in the production of marketing assets across many distribution channels including institutional, retirement, insurance, intermediary, and retail direct business.

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