Smart Business Analysis Don't Drown in Decisions

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

Consider the following examples of decisions arising in a regulated environment:[1]

A government agency in Europe has regulations relating to social benefits.  The agency must make decisions that conform to those regulations.  Examples:  Is this person eligible for this benefit?  How much benefit, and for how long, is this person entitled to?

An individual company might also have decisions that are dependent on those regulations.  Example:  "Is this person entitled to paid leave to care for a sick child?"  (The regulations might require companies of a certain size to pay for such leave.)  Such decisions are likely to depend on the company's own policies and practices as well.

These examples represent true operational business decisions — ones valid for decision analysis.  By the way, it's hardly surprising that the decisions are in effect about money.  Of course money entails decisions!  But here are two important observations before we get carried away.

1.  One-Off Behavioral Rules.

Regulations and business policies typically imply a great many one-off behavioral rules. 

  • One-off means the rules follow no particular pattern so they won't readily fit into a decision table.

  • Behavioral means the rules bestow obligations or prohibitions on people and organizations, and so can be violated.[2]


  • Payment of benefits shall cease immediately upon the death of the beneficiary.

  • Payment of benefits shall not be made to any beneficiary living outside the country for more than 9 months of a fiscal year.

  • Payment of benefits shall not be made directly to any minor.

Is decision analysis well-suited to capturing such one-off behavioral rules?  No, not directly.  Is it productive to treat an operational action, such as 'Pay Benefit', as a decision (e.g., "Should a benefit payment be made?"  No, not from a business perspective.

Behavior related to the evaluation and enforcement of behavioral rules should be autonomous, much like the autonomic nervous system[4] in the human body.  It's definitely at a lower rung on the business ladder of intelligence than decision-making.  There's simply no need to make it more complicated than it already is.

More on Autonomous Behavior

Automation is not the most fundamental objective for business rules and their application.  In any event automation is not always possible.  More fundamental is autonomy (a.k.a. rule independence).

Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (MWUD) defines autonomy as the quality or state of being independent, free, and self-directing.  Autonomy always implies a degree of political or organic independence.  Autonomy for business rules yields at least three important benefits:

  • Capacity for growth, reactivity, or responsiveness (MWUD 4) — i.e., greater agility.

  • Independent management of the business rules as a resource — and therefore better traceability.

  • Impartial, unavoidable, and consistent application of the business rules — and therefore more trustworthy results.

So, for the example let's assume the following:[5]

  • There is a task or action 'Make payment', probably in some business process.

  • There is an independent 'watcher' — i.e., an automated service or person responsible for evaluating and applying the behavioral rules.

In performing the task for any particular real-world case the 'watcher' might detect violations of relevant behavioral rules.  If so, when a violation is detected the 'watcher' applies each behavioral rule to its specified level of enforcement, and possibly sends some appropriate message(s) and/or invokes some procedure(s).  That's how basic business behavior becomes autonomous so the business can concentrate on matters requiring greater skill, experience, or intelligence — i.e., true business decisions.

If you're not careful everything becomes a decision.  Where do you draw the line?  Creating a smart business process is not enough.  It must be competent at conducting business fundamentals as well.

2.  Violations of Behavioral Rules.

Consider the following (one-off) behavioral rule:

A non-citizen may cash a payment of benefits for a citizen only if married to that citizen and the citizen is not deceased.

What happens in the following scenario?

The citizen dies or divorces the non-citizen.  Then the non-citizen tries to cash a payment.

There's no organizational decision involved in that action.  You can say there's a personal decision — e.g., the non-citizen decides to try to violate the rule and cash a payment.  But the business doesn't really care about that decision.

The focus of the business should be on simply detecting violations in the most straightforward manner possible.  You don't need a business decision for that.

If you have a decision for every possible kind of violation (event) of every behavioral rule, you'll very quickly drown in decisions.  Don't go there!

For further information, please visit      


[1]  acks. to James Taylor from an online discussion  return to article

[2]  According to the OMG standard SBVR (Semantics of Business Vocabularies and Business Rules), the second fundamental kind of business rule is definitional.  A definitional rule bestows a necessity or impossibility on knowledge, and so cannot be violated per se.  Inference-type rules are definitional.  For information about SBVR see the SBVR Insider section on  return to article

[3]  These regulations / business policies are not entirely ready to be deployed into the business — i.e., are probably not yet practicable.  So they are not expressed following all RuleSpeak® guidelines.  return to article

[4]  MWUD 1 : a part of the vertebrate nervous system that innervates smooth and cardiac muscle and glandular tissues, governs actions that are more or less automatic (as secretion, vasoconstriction, or peristalsis)  return to article

[5]  As always, business vocabulary is highly important too.  For example, which does payment mean in the earlier regulations / business policies:  accrual of benefit, act of payment, amount of payment, or something else?  Clear definitions are no small issue in producing correct results.  return to article

# # #

Standard citation for this article:

citations icon
Ronald G. Ross, "Smart Business Analysis Don't Drown in Decisions" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 15, No. 2, (Feb. 2014)

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

Online Interactive Training Series

In response to a great many requests, Business Rule Solutions now offers at-a-distance learning options. No travel, no backlogs, no hassles. Same great instructors, but with schedules, content and pricing designed to meet the special needs of busy professionals.