From Concepts to Business Knowledge Blueprints: What Concept Models Are

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

Extracted from Business Knowledge Blueprints: Enabling Your Data to Speak the Language of the Business, by Ronald G. Ross, 2020.

A concept is a unit of knowledge. It is something conceived in the mind — an idea abstracted from particular instances. There can be a concept for anything you can perceive or conceive, from customers to the Eiffel Tower to unicorns. A concept is always in your mind.

Because a concept exists in your mind, it doesn't automatically come with words (or at least you can't prove it does, one way or the other). Somewhere along the way you'll have to add the words on. Those are your terms and definitions. That's the hard part because words allow other people to judge whether your concepts make sense.

Computer scientists are eager to standardize representations of concepts. To them, symbols (e.g., words and word syntax) are the real deal. (Think computer languages.) The fluffy stuff in people's minds is inaccessible. Sure. But computer scientists are not primarily concerned with the challenge of effective business communication per se, or running an actual business. Communication of knowledge between people is hard!

Sooner rather than later, adding words onto concepts may also allow machines to judge whether your concepts make sense. We need such help worse than we know! So, looking ahead a central goal is for your concepts to be consumable by both humans and machines.

What is a Concept Model?

Think of a concept model as a collection of conceptual buckets into which you can place like things. That notion is called classification. For example, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and Marie Curie are enough alike in certain respects to be classified as scientists.

To classify things properly, you need to be very clear about why things go into each conceptual bucket. So, each conceptual bucket is associated with explicit criteria for what things can be placed within it. Those criteria are called definitional criteria and include definitions and definitional rules. For any given conceptual bucket, the definitional criteria collectively represent a concept.

A concept model organizes your concepts structurally. Your concepts don't exist in isolation — they naturally relate to each other. For example, mammal relates to animal. Orders are placed by customers. To relate things properly, you need to understand how things can be related in the business.

Here then is how we define a concept model:

concept model: a set of concepts structured according to the relations among them

What is a Business Knowledge Blueprint?

A concept model, like individual concepts, is in the mind. Obviously, it needs to be represented outside the mind to be of much use. A concept model is represented in the form of a business knowledge blueprint, which includes vocabulary, definitions, definitional rules, and (usually) diagrams.

We define a business knowledge blueprint as follows:

business knowledge blueprint: a concept model along with everything that communicates its meaning, including vocabulary, definitions, definitional rules, diagrams, and related information such as examples, descriptions, notes, and references

A business knowledge blueprint is without peer as a pragmatic basis for developing a high-quality business vocabulary, as well as a multi-purpose blueprint to your company's business knowledge. It's also an information architect's best friend.

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Standard citation for this article:

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Ronald G. Ross, "From Concepts to Business Knowledge Blueprints: What Concept Models Are" Business Rules Journal, Vol. 21, No. 08, (Aug. 2020)

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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