Straight Talk (Part 2) The Good News in 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
For the past 20 years, the IT mainstream has always been headed somewhere other than business rules.  These days it's the cloud, mobile computing, big data, and more.  As good as those things might prove they won't bring your company better operational business solutions.  Why?  Because true solutions can never be any better than the basic business logic you follow.

There is good news in the field of business rules.  The second part of this four-part series discusses the steady progress in ideas, tools, and techniques that has taken place over the past two decades.  These ideas, tools, and techniques allow you to move your organization to a new level of business capability — as soon as you're ready for the journey.

Good News Item 1:  Rule Independence

Rule Independence[1] means that business rules are expressed directly, rather than embedded (and lost) in the flow of processes or application programs.  That way the rules can be managed as an asset in their own right, separately from other artifacts.

When people hear 'separately' sometimes they think that business processes and business rules are isolated from one another and never 'talk'.  No.  You simply want to let them 'bind' as close to real-time business operation ('run-time') as possible.

'Separately' also means you can:

  • Represent business rules in their natural form — declaratively — rather than procedurally.

  • Simplify processes hugely, while at the same time create far more agile solutions.

Rule independence yields another benefit — reusability.  By externalizing business rules from applications, you can single-source your business logic.

Good News Item 2:  Rule-Friendly Methodology

Methodologies for business analysis that are comprehensively rule-friendly do exist and have been proven in practice.[2]  They show you how to:

  • Capture, express, and validate business rules.

  • Work with the business rules in the context of other deliverables.

  • Set up the business rules to be managed for the long term.

Good News Item 3:  Proven Platforms

There are many proven platforms to support evaluation (execution) of business rules.  Their vendors have been around the block.  They 'get' what running a business dependent on software means, including the need for reliability and security.

Trying to support your business computing today without a business rule management system (BRMS) is like going without a database management system (DBMS).  It's simply that basic.  Your IT staff should never be writing even one line of code to evaluate business rules.

Good News Item 4:  Business-Level Rulebook Management

Practitioners should stop thinking of business rules as simply another form of requirement.  The life cycles of business rules and of software releases are distinct.  Each has its own audience and its own natural pace.  They need to be radically decoupled.

Your company's business rules are a business asset that needs to be managed directly.  For effective rulebook management you need a special breed of tool, which I call a general rulebook system (GRBS).[3]  Such tools are readily available.[4]

What kind of support should a GRBS provide?  Business rules and the vocabulary on which they are based are central to the problem of supporting continuous change.  They need to be right at the fingertips of both business people and business analysts.

You also want traceability from original sources through to the points of operational deployment.  You want to know who created what rules, for what purpose, when.  That's called corporate memory.  Without it, you'll never achieve the rapid change and business agility you seek.

Good News Item 5:  Concept Models

When you show business people class diagrams or data models, you're not really talking business.  Class diagrams and data models are design artifacts for how knowledge about real-world things is to be represented as data in machines.

If we want business people to talk business to us, we must talk business back.  That means talking about their words, concepts and meanings.  To do that you need to develop business vocabulary in a structured way — i.e., develop a concept model.[5]

Practitioners are slowly starting to 'get' this.  Examples:

  • IIBA's recently released Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) version 3 devotes a new section to it.

  • A solid standard exists for concept models — OMG's Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR).[6]

  • Proven methodologies support concept modeling.[7]

Good News Item 6:  Decision Engineering

Analyzing and modeling operational business decisions has become a new industry focal point in the past few years.  Business-and-rule-friendly techniques have emerged[8] and just this year an OMG standard.[9]  These resources address such important questions about operational business decisions as:

  • How are they structured? 

  • How can they be decomposed? 

  • How can you capture related business rules?

Decision engineering also provides an opportunity for a fresh look at decision tables.

Just to be clear, decision tables themselves are not new.  They've actually been around longer than software engineering, at least back to the 1960s.  What's emerging today is a fresh way of looking at decision tables from a business rather than a software perspective, and important new ideas about how they can help address complexity.[10]

Next Time

In the third part of this four-part series, Ron discusses the elements of business architecture needed to move your organization — and your professional toolkit — to a new level of capability.

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[1]  The idea of Rule Independence was formalized by The Business Rules Manifesto, a 2003 work product of the Business Rules Group.  The Manifesto is now in 18 languages, with more on the way.  return to article

[2]  BRS BABusinessSpeak™ is an example.  Refer to the newly published second edition of Building Business Solutions:  Business Analysis with Business Rules, an IIBA Sponsored Handbook, by Ronald G. Ross with Gladys S.W. Lam, 2015.  return to article

[3]  "What You Need to Know About Rulebook Management" by Ronald G. Ross, Business Rules Journal, Vol. 10, No. 9 (Sep. 2009).  URL:  return to article

[4]  For a best-of-breed example, see RuleXpress by  return to article

[5]  Ronald G. Ross, "What Is a Concept Model?," Business Rules Journal, Vol. 15, No. 10 (Oct. 2014), URL:  return to article

[6]  Refer to the SBVR Insider section on  return to article

[7]  For example, BRS ConceptSpeak™.  Refer to Business Rule Concepts:  Getting to the Point of Knowledge (4th ed), by Ronald G. Ross, 2013, Chapter 1 and Part 2.  return to article

[8]  Refer to the BRS Primer, Decision Analysis:  How to Use DecisionSpeak™ and Question Charts (Q-Charts™), 2013 (free).  return to article

[9]  Decision Model and Notation (DMN).  return to article

[10]  Refer to the BRS Primer, Decision Tables:  How to Use TableSpeak™, 2013 (free).  return to article

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "Straight Talk (Part 2) The Good News in Business Rules" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 16, No. 7, (Jul. 2015)

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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