Organizing Business Concepts

Donald R.  Chapin
Donald R. Chapin co-chair, OMG Business Modelling and Integration Domain Task Force Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Donald R. Chapin

The Business Rules Group has begun work on a new standard, "Organizing Business Concepts," targeted on the Row 2, Col 1 cell of the Zachman Framework at the 'knowledge about knowledge' meta-layer.   This new standard is about 'things and communicating ideas about them' (Col 1) from the perspective of the 'people involved' (Row 2).   The key to this cell is people communicating.

Immediately, we realize that this cell is not the natural domain of information technologists.   It is the world of language, dictionaries, thought, and the pursuit of reality -- the world of the linguist, lexicologist, cognitive psychologist, and philosopher.   It is the world of meaning.  

Why then should a group about Business Rules, coming largely from an IT background, be tackling such a standard?   And how can we hope to do it justice?

The reason the Business Rules Group is working on this cell of the Zachman Framework now is quite simple.   You can't express Business Rules that will be clear to business people unless there is clarity in the language they are using to run the business.   In the end, Business Rules must be precise.   Therefore the business language used to express them must be 'precise enough.'

More importantly, an agreed terminology for the business -- one that reflects the way things really are in the business and is precise enough not to be easily misinterpreted -- enables business staff to run the business very much better.   They can think more clearly about business issues, make to better decisions, communicate & collaborate more effectively, and share knowledge more meaningfully.

The key question determining the standard's content, then, is "what kind of meta-model will gather up reality into meanings and terminology that is sufficient to support both communicating with minimal misinterpretation and stating Rules precisely?"   The approach that is being used is to understand and define the molecular structure of Business Rules.   The analogy goes like this:

The sub-atomic particles are:

  • things in the real world
  • ideas about them in people's minds
  • words, phrases, and symbols to reference them
  • instances and their classification into concepts
  • 'whole' concepts to gather all this into nuclei of meaning

The atoms are the mental connections that are made among ideas -- reflecting real world connections among things -- in order to:

  • know and describe something
  • know about the involvement things have with each other

The molecules are the rules made up of:

  • classifications,
  • mental connections, and
  • 'rule words' (must, not, no, only if)

The principle governing the sequence of our Discussion Topics is to design the subatomic particles well enough before trying to build atoms with them, and to design the atoms well enough before trying to build molecules with them.   The Discussion Topics for this standard are:

    1. Business Concepts and Terminology: The Basics

    2. Communities, Subject Contexts, and Semantic Domains

    3. Taxonomies, Classifications, and Categories

    4. Making Mental Connections: Business Facts
        (Facts INDEPENDENT of Symbols/Terms)

    5. Ideas that Specify
        (Who, What, When, Where, How, Why)

    6. Making Logical Connections: Business Rules
        (Rules INDEPENDENT of Symbols/Terms)

    7. Formal Definitions

    8. Statements and Messages (incl.   Fact & Rule Statements)
        (Facts and Rules expressed with Symbols/Terms)

    9. 'Smart' Codes

Members of the Business Rules Group bring a wide range interests to the group in addition to their in-depth experience in IT.   Many are well read in philosophy and related subjects.   Many have extensive experience in building data dictionaries and Concepts Catalogs for use by business staff.   In fact, one of the things that brings the group together is a common interest in 'getting at the meaning behind the data' more thoroughly using business rules.  

The group has been working with the Zachman Framework since its inception 10 years ago, and includes John Zachman among its members.   Its first standard -- "Defining Business Rules ~ What Are They Really?" -- dealt with many related issues, thus providing a strong foundation for this work.

Success in stating Business Rules meaningfully and 'precisely enough' will require a shift of purpose.   Philosophers say that to gain an understanding of realty one must pursue knowledge of it for no other purpose than the sheer good of knowing that reality.   To be successful in finding out how things really are in the business, the work must be done for no other reason, including the purpose of building an improved system, than the good of discovering that reality and documenting it in the language of the business in the Concepts Catalog.

Having done that for its own sake, then all the good of the reality that is bound up in the business language is there to use for running the business, defining Business Rules, and building systems that work the way people think and speak.

Keep watching this spot for news about the progress the Business Rules Group is making with this exciting new standard.

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Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Donald R. Chapin, "Organizing Business Concepts" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 2, No. 4, (Apr. 2001)

About our Contributor:

Donald  R. Chapin
Donald R. Chapin co-chair, OMG Business Modelling and Integration Domain Task Force

Donald Chapin is co-chair of the OMG Business Modelling and Integration Domain Task Force. He led the team that developed the OMG's "Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules" (SBVR) specification, and is co-chair of its Revision Task Force. Donald is also the OMG's Liaison to ISO TC 37 (Terminology and other Language and Content Resources) and the ISO TC 37/SC 1/WG 5 SBVR project leader. He is a member of the British Standards Institute Terminology Technical Committee (TS/1) and a British delegate to ISO TC 37.

Donald has substantial experience in training and methodology development — starting in the late 1960s, when he first introduced decision tables into IBM's internal application development training, and continuing to his current practice, where he is developing and presenting workshops for application of SBVR. Currently he is working with a major manufacturing company and a UK government agency on federated business policies expressed in SBVR. Donald is a member of the Business Rules Group and contributed to the development of the Business Rules Manifesto.

Donald can be reached at

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