The Newest Idea in Business Rules: Rules Normalize!

Ronald G.  Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC) Read Author Bio       || Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross

This column originally appeared in the March/April 1996 issue of the Data Base Newsletter.

The foundation for formal thinking about integrity in database designs, of course, is normalization from relational theory.  Normalization provides sound prescriptions -- very practical ones -- to evaluate whether a database design for persistent data is a good one with respect to integrity (correctness).  These prescriptions are represented by the normal forms (1NF, 2NF, 3NF, etc.).

Rules also directly address integrity; that is, which database states are permitted, and which are not, based on business rules.  The question naturally arises:  Is there a connection between rules and normalization?

The emerging answer is yes.  The connection is a fundamental one -- and very exciting!  I believe this discovery is among the most significant of the newly emerging field of business rules.  (More on that in a moment.) 
To understand the connection, consider these two observations about rules.

  • First, rules are, or at least have, data.  This data includes (but is not limited to) the truth value of the rules.  Although this is not regular 'business' data, it is data nonetheless.

  • Second, this data is persistent.  It must last longer than individual frames of processing (transactions) so that the rules can be tested across applications.

In other words, rules involve data, and that data persists.  This is exactly where normalization takes up for regular business data.  The implication is that normalization can be applied directly to rules -- in other words, that rules normalize.  (Actually, that is not exactly the right way to say it.  Relational experts say that tables normalize.  Unfortunately, saying "rules have values that can be considered along with the other values of a table when normalized" does not have quite the same ring to it.)

The profound insight that rules normalize seems obvious once you think about it.  How could it be any other way?  There are at least two important implications, as follows.

  • It can be exploited directly in a syntax for modeling rules.  In the graphic syntax I have devised, the type in the data model to which a rule normalizes is shown explicitly -- this is a basic organizing principle.

  • It can provide an indisputable test -- one that is not ad hoc or based on aesthetics -- for deciding when an information system design that addresses rules is a good one.  In other words, it tells you explicitly where the rules should go.

If you have followed object orientation (OO) in recent years, especially OO approaches to analysis and design, you may have sensed that something like this has been sorely missed.  (This is especially true about the responsibility-driven camp.)  It is a source of great confusion -- and, I believe, one very good reason you why you should be considering a business rule approach.

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "The Newest Idea in Business Rules: Rules Normalize!" (Mar./Apr. 1996)

About our Contributor:

Ronald  G. Ross
Ronald G. Ross Co-Founder & Principal, Business Rule Solutions, LLC , Executive Editor, Business Rules Journal and Co-Chair, Building Business Capability (BBC)

Ronald G. Ross is Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rule Solutions, LLC, where he actively develops and applies the BRS Methodology including RuleSpeak®, DecisionSpeak and TableSpeak.

Ron is recognized internationally as the "father of business rules." He is the author of ten professional books including the groundbreaking first book on business rules The Business Rule Book in 1994. His newest are:

Ron serves as Executive Editor of and its flagship publication, Business Rules Journal. He is a sought-after speaker at conferences world-wide. More than 50,000 people have heard him speak; many more have attended his seminars and read his books.

Ron has served as Chair of the annual International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference where he serves as Co-Chair. He was a charter member of the Business Rules Group (BRG) in the 1980s, and an editor of its Business Motivation Model (BMM) standard and the Business Rules Manifesto. He is active in OMG standards development, with core involvement in SBVR.

Ron holds a BA from Rice University and an MS in information science from Illinois Institute of Technology. Find Ron's blog on For more information about Ron visit Tweets: @Ronald_G_Ross

Read All Articles by Ronald G. Ross

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