From Rule Management to Business Governance, Part 1: Governance and How it Relates to Business Rules

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

Say "governance" and many people immediately think IT governance, or perhaps the IT process of developing requirements (i.e., system design methodology), or sometimes governance of data (a.k.a.  "data governance").  In this series, however, I want to talk about the real-world meaning of 'governance', or more precisely, what 'governance' means in natural language and everyday life.  Then I will explore how business rules relate.  You may be surprised by what pops out!

First, let's examine the definitions of 'governance' given by Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary[1] (MWUD).

1:  the act or process of governing
2a:  the office, power, or function of governing
2b:  controlling or directing influence : AUTHORITY
3:  the state of being governed
4a:  the manner or method of governing : conduct of office
4b:  [obsolete]
5:  a system of governing

From this we find that 'governance' implies the process, function, manner, or method, and/or system of governing.  It also implies authority and/or the state of being governed.

Since virtually all the definitions above reference 'governing', let's now examine the MWUD definition for 'govern'.  The most relevant definitions for businesses are the following.  Note how prominent 'rule' and 'policy' appear in them!

transitive verb

1a:  to exercise arbitrarily or by established rules continuous sovereign authority over; especially:  to control and direct the making and administration of policy in
3a:  to control, direct, or strongly influence the actions and conduct of (as a person or a group)

intransitive verb  

1:  to prevail or have decisive influence : CONTROL
2:  to exercise authority : perform the functions of government especially in the making and execution of policy

At the risk of saying the obvious, note that the definitions do not say anything about IT, data, use cases, or anything of the like.  For that matter, they don't even mention anything about '[business] processes'(!).

The definitions do, however, have everything to do with business rules.  To demonstrate, just take a quick look at the seminal definition of 'business rule' given by the original GUIDE report back in 1995.[2]  Note the key words 'control' and 'influence'.

...  a statement that defines or constrains some aspect of the business ...  [which is] intended to assert business structure, or to control or influence the behavior of the business.

The newer definition of 'business rule' in the OMG's SBVR[3] standard is ultimately based on the following dictionary[4] definition of 'rule'.  Note the appearance of 'governing'.

one of a set of explicit or understood regulations or principles governing conduct or procedure within a particular area of activity ... a law or principle that operates within a particular sphere of knowledge, describing, or prescribing what is possible or allowable

Here is my point.  'Business rules' and the governance of an enterprise are inherently and inextricably linked.  The better your company gets at business rules, the better (smarter) it can become at the nuts and bolts of governance.  Simple as that.  And absolutely as critical as that in a volatile, rapidly changing, and ever more complex (and regulated) world!  

The second column of this four-part series will examine rule management, and discuss how it too is intrinsic to business governance.


[1]  Emphasis in these definitions, and in all definitions that follow, has been added. return to article

[2]  Defining Business Rules ~ What Are They Really? 4th ed., July 2002.  Originally published as GUIDE Business Rules Project Report, 1995.  Available from return to article

[3]  Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR).  Available at  In September 2005, the Object Management Group (OMG) approved SBVR to become a final adopted specification of the OMG.  It is in finalization as of this writing (November, 2006).  For background on the SBVR and the consortium that produced it, refer to:  "A Brief History of the Business Rule Approach" 2nd ed.  The Business Rules Journal  7, no. 11 (2006).  Available at return to article

[4]  Oxford Dictionary of English return to article

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "From Rule Management to Business Governance, Part 1: Governance and How it Relates to Business Rules" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 7, No. 11, (Nov. 2006)

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

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