Layer Cakes and Coca Cola
Here at Pegasystems we have this concept of a "situational layer cake" to describe how we produce the appropriate result depending on a multi-dimensional matrix of dynamic variables. If the audience is deeply into computer programming you can actually say words like "this resolves the classic problem of multiple inheritance that Java did not solve; we allow a declarative rules engine to generate the appropriate Java sub-class -- at runtime". They get it, really. But it turns out business people really don't care for this kind of language. They do understand a layer cake though. And they understand delivering the right decision at the right time to the right person. So we ask them to picture layers of specialization that adapt dynamically to and learn from different situations. So this "layer cake" ends up getting used a lot more than the computer science definition, and is represented in a number of different ways, here's one, complete with chocolate frosting.
Pegasystems' situational layercake
There may be another metaphor waiting for us to use. The Coca Cola company announced back in April that they were going to begin test marketing something called the "Freestyle" self-service vending machine. In the old days of course you had a soda machine that had a limited number of brands available, ours has one Diet Dr Pepper (always empty), a couple of Pepsi's and a couple of Diet and classic Cokes. The Freestyle changes all that in a way that might work as an alternative to our long standing layer cake. Instead of just a few drinks, the Freestyle self-service machine carries 100 different brands and serves your preferred flavor up on demand. The flavor cartridges are monitored by RFID so that the company can monitor real-time feedback in the data warehouse and conduct analysis on new flavors. You can read more about it a Barcode.com and an interesting article on Intelligent Enterprise.
While it is not quite a multi-dimensional rule repository, the idea of dynamically generated on-demand customer orientation is not a bad metaphor. Let's see how well the Coca Cola Freestyle works in the marketplace; layer cakes have been around a while and may outlast the challenge.