As the slowing economy forces businesses to get the most out of every dollar spent, they may want to consider what in software-speak are known as "rules engines"–especially the newest ones that do not need a team of IT gurus to write new programs every time a company's playing field shifts slightly.

Rules engines, in general, allow companies to hand over to computers some decision-making power through customized analytical applications. The advantage: Decisions are made faster and more uniformly than when you have various employees making their own judgment calls. But some rules engines, such as those produced by San Mateo, Calif.-based Corticon Technologies and Greenbrae, Calif.-based MindBox, also make rules visible and capable of being changed by the non-techie. This frees up IT departments for bigger, more complicated jobs, while still keeping software up-to-date with the needs of the users. And that's where some real savings can be realized. Rules engines like those from Corticon and MindBox "will help you become more efficient," says Peter Urban, a senior analyst at AMR Research in Boston.

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