Interview with Richard S. Barfus, Co-Founder, President and CEO, MindBox
Excerpt from article "Business Rules are
the Key to CRM and One-to-One Personalization" published by
Rolando Hernandez, Founder & CEO, BizRules.com, in the August
2001 issue of the Business Rules Journal.
Expert systems are a great way to deliver
expert advice and product recommendations over the Web and in a CRM
personalization application. Expert systems are one of those
emerging technologies that have been around 20 years before they
were 'discovered', like the Internet. The Internet was 20 years
old when Tim Berners-Lee wrote three programs called WWW, HTTP,
and URL and invented the World Wide Web in 1991.
Although rule-based expert systems haven't had
to change much during the last 20 years, they have evolved in
order to support new technologies like eBusiness. Today expert
systems are contributing to many eBusiness and CRM
personalization success stories, although it is hard to find a
company willing to talk about it.
"Expert systems didn't really go away.
They went undercover" - -
Richard Barfus, President, MindBox
"Expert systems didn't really
go away. They went undercover," says Richard Barfus,
President and CEO of MindBox. MindBox was one of the pioneers of expert
systems and AI. Originally known as Inference in the
1980's, it became Brightware in the 1990's, and spun off into
MindBox last year.
"When we implement a successful system we'll
want to do a press release and they say 'Are you crazy? We love
it, but we won't talk about it. We love it, it works great, by
the way here's all the money we're saving and here's all the
money we're making, but I don't want anybody to know about
this.' There are many, many examples of expert systems where
people see it as their secret sauce, and they just don't want to
publicize it because they don't want anyone else to be doing
it," said Richard.
"AMEX's Authorizer's Assistant is a perfect example of
all the wonderful things of these types of applications"
(expert systems) - - Richard Barfus, President, MindBox
American Express' Authorizer's Assistant (AA)
is a good example. AA is one of the oldest and largest
rule-based systems ever built. AA is one of those classic expert
systems that people read about and studied in the early 1990's.
Then the publicity stopped and now you don't hear anything about
it. I asked Richard whatever happened to AA because his company,
MindBox, developed it in 1988. He said, "Authorizer's Assistant
is a perfect example of all the wonderful things of these types
of applications. It's been in continuous production for 13
years, and it's never been down. When we originally built it for
AMEX it was for the Green card only. Now it applies to all of
their card products both domestically and internationally. And
only five people maintain a core system like that. If you look
at a core system of that magnitude in most organizations, you're
talking about 30-40 people in the IS department assigned to
It's one thing to hear that from a vendor, but
another to hear it from the customer. So I called American
Express and spoke with Marilyn Stark, Director, who leads the
Authorizer's Assistant expert system. AA is an integral part of
AMEX's Credit Authorization System (CAS) transaction processing
system for receiving credit requests from merchants, processing
those requests, and transmitting the approval or denial back to
the merchant. AA analyzes the small percent of requests
requiring human attention, and it uses business rules to
simulate the decision process of experienced credit agents. 
"AMEX's Authorizer's Assistant has been running 24x7
since 1988. The original rulebase is still in
production. Authorizer's Assistant never went away." - -
Marilyn Stark, Director, American Express
According to Marilyn, the core AA application
contains over 3,000 business rules, and the entire AA system
contains about 35,000 rules. AA originally ran on a Symbolics
machine, and it now runs on an IBM RS/6000 under AIX. It went
into production in the 4th quarter of 1988, and it has been
running 24x7 ever since. Even though it has evolved over the
last 13 years, AMEX has not had to rewrite the rulebase. The
original rulebase is still in production. I asked Marilyn why
AMEX stopped talking about this system, and she said that the
industry moved on to other new things like neural nets and other
new technologies, but that "Authorizer's Assistant never went
If you use your American Express Card to buy
something online, it is very likely that the Authorizer's
Assistant expert system will process your transaction.
Rule-based expert systems are key components of many large OLTP
and CRM personalization applications.
Steven Alter, Information Systems, A Management Perspective -
American Express Authorizer's Assistant, Prentice Hall.
Copyright © 2001 Rolando