ConceptSpeak™ (1): Elements of Structure in Concept Models
Speaking the Language of the Business with Concept Models
A concept model comprises a set of concepts and the structural relations between and among those concepts. ConceptSpeak™ is a comprehensive and carefully-coordinated set of guidelines and techniques for designing a concept model. In this in-depth series, Ron Ross presents ConceptSpeak's highly-disciplined approach for creating concept models in terms of well-defined elements of structure.
How confident are you that you speak the language of your business? And even if you do, think about new hires or staff switching to new roles — how long is too long to come up to speed? What about the service providers who must interpret and implement your policies? Is your business intent correctly interpreted and deployed? Get the knowledge wrong and the operations will never be right. This challenge applies to all industry sectors in every business communication.
In creating a concept model, you are designing a special kind of business blueprint, one crucial for business analysis, information architecture, and knowledge management. A concept model enables you to communicate virtually anything with business clarity.
A business concept model starts, of course, with business concepts. But there's more to it than that. Along with business concepts, a concept model comprises a set of structural relations between and among those concepts. These elements of structure come in well-defined forms that enable a highly-disciplined approach. Elements of structure come in two basic varieties, standard relations and verb concepts.
1. Standard relations. Classification and categorization bring deeper meaning (semantics) to sets of concepts that can be reasoned over. These two elements of structure do not need to be worded, just called out (often but not always graphically).
Example: We know that all mammals are animals. By calling out that connection, anything we subsequently say about animals in general automatically also applies to mammals in particular. If not, there is a flaw in our knowledge. Reasoning for free!
These two types of standard relations — along with two other kinds of pre-defined relations — will be discussed in detail in the next part of this series.
2. Verb concepts. These elements of structure are based on the verbs and verb phrases you'll need to form and disambiguate sentences that express your knowledge. The wordings for these verb concepts mean exactly what you say they mean — nothing more and nothing less.
Example: Suppose you say "A person steals a car." That doesn't mean the person owns the car or leases the car or drives the car or anything else. It means a person steals a car. When you use the verb steals in a sentence in connection with person and car, you'll mean exactly steals. If this verb concept is not in your concept model but you need it to communicate something, you have a hole in your business knowledge (or at the very least, your ability to communicate that knowledge). Verb concepts are essential to the expressiveness and precision of business communications.
An in-depth examination of the verb concept elements of a concept model will be covered beginning in part 3 of this series.
Is a Concept Model an Ontology?
Elements of structure provide enriched semantics, hence potential computational power. Collectively, these elements of structure permit you to call your concept model a business ontology if you like.
I mean ontology in a technology-agnostic sense — that's why I say business ontology. For example, I'm not talking about OWL (Web Ontology Language). But yes, your concept model can provide a solid grounding for use of such tools.
Be aware that not everything called a business ontology is a concept model. To be a true concept model terms used in natural language business communications must be defined as business authors intend their meanings.
The SBVR Connection
The relevant standard for concept models is the Object Management Group's (OMG's) Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR). SBVR is grounded in predicate logic as well as coordinated with standards such as OWL. You're on very solid ground in using an approach based on SBVR.
By the way, it's not surprising that SBVR arose in conjunction with business rules. Business rules in the large sense (not just what you see in most vendor platforms to date) have always been about expressing knowledge. They are much closer to writing legal contracts than IT requirements. But that's a story for another day.
 Extracted from Business Knowledge Blueprints: Enabling Your Data to Speak the Language of the Business, by Ronald G. Ross, 2020.
 The conventions of ConceptSpeak follow the Object Management Group's (OMG's) Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR). SBVR is grounded in predicate logic as well as coorinated with standards such as OWL. You're on very solid ground in using the approach that ConceptSpeak describes. For more on SBVR see About SBVR
 Where does a 'true' concept model actually exist? This may seem like a strange question, but it's important to appreciate the correct answer. Here it is: Concepts are always in your mind. A concept model is a set of concepts. So, a concept model is actually also in your mind.
In practice, of course, the concept model needs to come outside your mind to be of much use. So, in creating the concept model you'll be working intensely with words and definitions and (often) diagrams. Chances are you will almost invariably think of that more tangible set of things as your 'concept model'. Although logicians and linguists might not approve, fine. Little harm done.
 Refer to the SBVR Insider section of BRCommunity.com for more information about SBVR. SBVR was initially published in January 2008 by the Object Management Group (OMG). Its central goal is to enable the full semantics of business communication (including business rules) to be captured, encoded, analyzed for anomalies, and transferred between machines.
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