SBVR: Foundation Vocabularies

Mark   Linehan
Mark Linehan Senior Technical Staff Member (IBM Research Division), IBM T.J. Watson Research Center Read Author Bio || Read All Articles by Mark Linehan

Now that the SBVR standard has reached approval, what's the next step for SBVR-related standards?  One important process is standards maintenance — dealing with the inevitable questions that will come up with the first implementations.  This is the job of an OMG-chartered group called the SBVR Revision Task Force.

I believe another step should be the standardization of "Foundation Vocabularies" — terms and fact types (relationships) for basic cross-industry concepts in areas such as dates and times, quantities, units of measure, and locations.  These concepts are needed in many real business rules.  Standardizing them will bring multiple benefits:

  • Widely-understood and accepted terms for everyday concepts that will be needed by most SBVR users.

  • Reduced "cost of entry" for potential SBVR rule writers, by providing a set of foundational concepts.

  • Improved interoperation among SBVR tools.

The idea of "Foundation Vocabularies" is motivated by the EU-Rent case study in Annex E of the SBVR specification.  Many of the EU-Rent rules involve concepts of dates and times, so Section E.2.3.3 gives a "Common Vocabulary" that covers terms and fact types such as

Most of the EU-Rent rules use these date/time concepts.  For example:

Several technical benefits should also ensue from standardizing one or more "Foundational Vocabularies":

  • Foundation vocabularies can be concrete use cases for studying transformation of SBVR business vocabularies to and from other modeling schemes, such as the Unified Modeling Language (UML) and the Web Ontology Language (OWL).  Not only should this help us understand the technical details of mapping between SBVR and these other standards, but such studies should also shed light on the semantic differences between business-layer modeling (as in SBVR) and implementation-layer modeling (as with UML and OWL).

  • SBVR vocabularies should be published in the XMI- and MOF-based SBVR interchange format.  Standard, well-documented "Foundation Vocabularies" will be helpful to SBVR tool vendors who want to assure interoperation between SBVR tools.

Finally, "Foundational Vocabularies" should be business-oriented versions of relevant existing standards such as the ISO 8601 date/time format standard.  Creating these "Foundational Vocabularies" may make experts in those other standards aware of SBVR and may draw them into becoming active with SBVR itself.

Technically, "Foundation Vocabularies" are not a particularly "big deal".  But in terms of their potential for spurring the adoption of SBVR, they could make a real difference.  To realize that impact, I'm working to start a standards effort around "Foundation Vocabularies" at the Object Management Group (OMG), the same organization that standardized SBVR.  I encourage anybody who's interested in the topic to join the standards discussion via an OMG mailing list called  Anybody can subscribe by sending an email to  You can review past discussion on the web at

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Standard citation for this article:

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Mark Linehan, "SBVR: Foundation Vocabularies" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3, (Mar. 2008)

About our Contributor:

Mark   Linehan
Mark Linehan Senior Technical Staff Member (IBM Research Division), IBM T.J. Watson Research Center

Mark Linehan is a Senior Technical Staff Member with the IBM Research Division at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center. His research interests are business rules technology, with a particular focus on business representation of rules and on automated transformation of business rules into implementations.

He was active in the last year of the SBVR standards effort, and is now working on SBVR "foundation vocabularies." Mark has an M.S. degree in computer science from Columbia University, and a B.A. degree from Case Western Reserve University.

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