Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence

TURNING OPERATIONAL KNOWLEDGE & COMPLIANCE INTO A COMPETITIVE EDGE

We systemize tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge

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How Good Are You at Business Rule Analysis?

mowing-the-lawn[1]Can you understand that all three of the following business rule statements mean the same thing? Here’s what must be true: If you mow the lawn on Sunday your lawn mower is to be electric; otherwise the lawn is not to be mowed on Sunday.

1. It is permitted that the lawn be mowed on Sunday only if the lawn mower is electric.

2. It is prohibited that the lawn is mowed on Sunday if the lawn mower is not electric.

3. It is obligatory that the lawn not be mowed on Sunday if the lawn mower is not electric.

I’m fairly certain you can. And if you can determine they all mean the same thing, I contend a machine ought to be able to do so too. I mean as stated in this exact same human-friendly, structured natural language form. And tell you that the statements mean the same thing (in effect, that they are redundant). That’s the kind of language-smart (cognitive) capability that business innovators should be expecting – no, demanding – from software vendors.

P.S. In the OMG standard Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR) the three statements are a restricted permission statement, a prohibition statement, and an obligation statement, respectively. You might prefer one or another of these forms of statements, but each is correct and reasonably understandable. Here are the RuleSpeak©[1] equivalents – even more friendly:

  1. The lawn may be mowed on Sunday only if the lawn mower is electric.

  2. The lawn must not be mowed on Sunday if the lawn mower is not electric.

  3. (same as 2)

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Get trained: Instructor-led, online, interactive training: April 4-6, 2017 – Business Analysis with Business Rules: From Strategy to Requirements. http://www.brsolutions.com/services/online/strategy-to-requirements/

©Business Rule Solutions, LLC 2017. www.BRSolutions.com

[1] Free on www.RuleSpeak.com

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Wholeness: Insight for Expressing Business Rules Well

The standard Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR)[1] offers fundamental insights about how to express business rules well. These common-sense insights can and should directly inform all expression of business rules – and any language that purports to support them. The first of these insights is the notion of practicable, which I discussed in my previous post. See: http://www.brsolutions.com/2015/06/29/practicable-insight-for-expressing-business-rules-well/ The second of these insights is the principle of wholeness. The descriptive text below is taken directly from SBVR itself.[2]Wholeness essentially means each business rule statement can be taken as fully trustworthy even in isolation from all other rules. The principle precludes priority schemes and rules that disable other rules, both of which can act to make any given rule less than fully trustworthy. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~                          Principle: An element of guidance means only exactly what it says, so it must say everything it means. Explanation: Each element of guidance must be self-contained; that is, no need to appeal to any other element(s) of guidance should ever arise in understanding the full meaning of a given element of guidance. The full impact of an element of guidance for a body of shared guidance, of course, cannot be understood in isolation. For example, an element of guidance might be in conflict with another element of guidance, or act as an authorization in the body of shared guidance. The Wholeness Principle simply means that if a body of shared guidance is deemed free of conflicts, then with respect to guidance, the full meaning of each element of guidance does not require examination of any other element of guidance. In other words, each element of guidance can be taken at face value for whatever it says. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1] For more information about SBVR see the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com.

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Practicable: Insight for Expressing Business Rules Well

The standard Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR)[1] offers fundamental insights about how to express business rules well. These common-sense insights can and should directly inform all expression of business rules – and any language that purports to support them. The first of these insights is the notion of practicable. The descriptive text below is taken directly from SBVR itself.[2]Practicable essentially means all ambiguity has been resolved. As a result, a practicable business rule can be given either to workers to apply ‘manually’, or to IT to implement under some platform, and the results will be exactly the same either way (barring human error or malfeasance). ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Definition: the element of guidance is sufficiently detailed and precise that a person who knows the element of guidance can apply it effectively and consistently in relevant circumstances to know what behavior is acceptable or not, or how something is understood Dictionary Basis: able to be done or put into practice successfully; able to be used, useful [Oxford Dictionary of English] Notes:
  • The sense intended is: “It’s actually something you can put to use or apply.”
  • The behavior, decision, or calculation can be that person’s own.
  • Whether or not some element of guidance is practicable is decided with respect to what a person with legitimate need can understand from it.
    • For a behavioral rule, this understanding is about the behavior of people and what form compliant behavior takes.
    • For a definitional rule, this understanding is about how evaluation of the criteria vested in the rule always produces some certain outcome(s) for a decision or calculation as opposed to others.
  • A practicable business rule is also always free of any indefinite reference to people (e.g., “you,” “me”), places (e.g., “here”), and time (e.g., “now”). By that means, if the person is displaced in place and/or time from the author(s) of the business rule, the person can read it and still fully understand it, without (a) assistance from any machine (e.g., to “tell” time), and (b) external clarification.
 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1] For more information about SBVR see the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com.

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Single Source of Business Truth

Re-engineering knowledge work is the central problem of the knowledge economy. In recent work at Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and current work a major bank in Canada we used RuleSpeak® to create what I call a “single source of truth for operational business IP (intellectual property)”. This is far more than a conceptual data model. Beyond structured business vocabulary its central feature is comprehensive rules. It may be like what some professionals call a “conceptual ontology” (as opposed to an operational ontology to be embedded in IT systems). But we would never use the term “ontology” in our work.  Most business people and SMEs simply wouldn’t ‘get’ that. The idea is that all audiences (or subcommunities) in an organization should work off a single trusted source of explicit know-how (business vocabulary and business rules), no matter what their specific responsibilities:
    • producing training materials for line workers.
    • making changes in operational policies.
    • providing proof of compliance for auditors.
    • creating new products.
    • communicating with IT.
Here are some key observations about our work to create a single source of business truth:
    • Our primary audience is not IT. Yet our work is of sufficient precision that straightforward translation into an implementation form can basically be taken as a ‘given’.
    • Our approach recognizes that people are the essential ingredient in business (as opposed to other kinds of knowledge problems). People can violate rules. For coordinating the work of people, direct support for behavioral rules, not just definitional or decision rules, is a must.
    • Our work could not be undertaken without a structured natural language for business rules like RuleSpeak. The non-IT audiences do need rich business semantics, but they have no desire whatsoever to become semantic programmers. They simply would not commit if the work were conducted on that basis.
    • No one today knows what the optimal syntax is for expressing all forms of business know-how in all circumstances. I suspect there isn’t one. That fact, plus the exponential increase in computer capability for processing natural language, indicates clearly that focusing on syntax is simply the wrong direction. RuleSpeak is based on, and was one of the reference languages for SBVR (Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules, on OMG standard), which supports a non-syntax approach. A language for ‘speaking’ with computers that is not a computer language – now that’s an idea whose time has definitely come!
www.BRSolutions.com

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Eliminate the Middlemen of Business Rules: Thinking Fresh for the New Year and Beyond

I have said many times programmers, even semantic programmers, are not the wave of the future for business rules. The future lies with enabling business people and business analysts to have dialogs with machines coming as close to unambiguous statements as they can (e.g., in RuleSpeak). The machine should ask questions to reduce ambiguity to an acceptable minimum. To protect against liability, the machine should log all assumptions, major and minor, in translating to an internal (formal and unambiguous) form so that results are traceable and improvable. Consider IBM Watson. If machines can win at Jeopardy against the best players in the world, that’s a pretty impressive feat for natural language capability. Let’s compare apples to apples. There will always be translation of business ”requirements” from human form to machine form. Even some perfect (a.k.a. formal semantic) implementation language would not reduce translation errors to an absolute minimum. Coders would still have to translate, and errors compound with every translation. So I say disintermediate; eliminate the middlemen – i.e. the coders. If you look across a great many industries, that’s the trend. Why should development of business applications be any different? I also suspect that any “formal semantic” language for business rules would inevitably be English-biased. That’s simply not acceptable in a global economy. RuleSpeak[1] has gathered increasing attention around the world. There are now versions in the works for Norwegian, Polish and Japanese, in addition to the original English and the existing Dutch, German and Spanish translations. A growing number of people find that RuleSpeak strikes just about the right balance between structured and unstructured expression. I’m not saying, however, that other useful approaches couldn’t be more formal – or less formal – than RuleSpeak. Perhaps they could. And that’s been my point for all these years working on SBVR[2] as a business rule standard. We simply don’t yet know the absolute best approach for expressing all business rules in all circumstances. No one knows enough. Perhaps there isn’t one. SBVR is brilliant precisely because it captures semantics without dictating expression form. Long term, that’s exactly what the industry needs. No, there hasn’t been rapid vendor implementation of SBVR since release of 1.0. I wouldn’t expect there to be. It threatens virtually every interface and mindset on the planet. Most people in the IT field still just don’t get it. In retrospect, OMG may have been the wrong forum for SBVR for at least two reasons:

1. OMG is the bastion of best-of-breed programming standards. Obviously there is an important role for that, but as above SBVR isn’t about programming.

2. The SBVR vocabulary is extremely useful for organizing business conversations about business vocabulary and business rules. OMG doesn’t ‘do’ business-facing standards of that kind (i.e., ones that don’t “compute”). IMO, that’s a major shortcoming. There is ultimately nothing more important than improving communication at the level of people. Get it wrong there and I promise it will be wrong in business automation, no matter how elegant the implementation language.

The bottom line is that machines for business (rule) automation now must learn to ‘speak’ human languages. The other way around is simply no longer acceptable – or even necessary. www.BRSolutions.com  
[2] The OMG standard Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules. Refer to the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com for insight into SBVR.
 

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Any Elegant Solution to Our Current Business Rules Dilemma? Nooo.

I get this question all the time, and it’s a painful one, so let me answer on the record. Question: In our enterprise architecture tooling, there’s a business dimension in which we define Business Concepts (the real business language), and an IT dimension containing Information Objects (data organization model). How can we solve the problem that business expresses rules as they relate to Business Concepts, while IT needs to translate these into rules related to Information Objects? We don’t want to bother business with IT model concerns, nor duplicate the rules in two places. Can you please shed light on an elegant approach to this dilemma? My answer: The standard SBVR[1] provides the ‘elegant’ approach, which is technology that can “read” language based on the business vocabulary (e.g., RuleSpeak) and/or dialog with people to disambiguate those statements. Until such technology is commercially available – and why not, look what IBM Watson can do! – two forms of each statement are unfortunately necessary. The key for your rule management regime is to maintain traceability between them. By the way, the mapping is almost certainly 1:m, not 1:1. I wish I had a better answer, but there just is none today. All I can say is that current implementation technologies for business rules are very, very primitive. ~~~~~~~~~~~ Acks: Tom Andries www.BRSolutions.com


[1] The OMG standard Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules. See the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com for insights about SBVR.

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Business Rules ‘Floating in Space’? Not!

Business rules do not ‘float in space’. They mean only what the words they use are defined to mean. So they are tied directly to business vocabulary (concept model), which in turn is represented in a system by a data model or class diagram. These days if approaches for business systems don’t step up to semantics, they’re simply not state-of-the-art. BTW, with machines more powerful every day, they should be ‘stepping up’. That means direct support for structured natural language – e.g., RuleSpeak. ~~~~~~ See the latest on RuleSpeak 3.0 (free download): http://www.brsolutions.com/b_ipspeakprimers.php

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Looking to Find Out What Decision Analysis is About? Make Business Processes & Business Architectures Smart? Design Business-Friendly Decision Tables? Write Business-Friendly Business Rules? >>> Free downloads …

As part of the April announcement of the new 4th edition of my book Business Rule Concepts: Getting to the Point of Knowledge, I’m pleased to make available some additional complementary (and complimentary!) downloads: Decision Analysis – A Primer: How to Use DecisionSpeak and Question Charts (Q-Charts) – 49pp http://www.brsolutions.com/IPSpeakPrimers (free) Decision Tables – A Primer: How to Use TableSpeak – 121pp http://www.brsolutions.com/IPSpeakPrimers (free) Tabulation of Lists in Rulespeak®: A Primer Using “The Following” Clause – 16pp http://www.brsolutions.com/IPSpeakPrimers (free) We’ve comprehensively written-up state-of-the-art experience and insight in these important areas. I hope you will make the most of them! P.S. Do have a look at other items of interest: http://goo.gl/WPV7O  

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Need Guidelines for Expressing Business Rules? RuleSpeak!

RuleSpeak® (free on www.RuleSpeak.com) is a set of guidelines for expressing business rules in concise, business-friendly fashion using structured natural language.  The guidelines arose from over 15 years of real-life consulting work by our company on hundreds of projects. They’ve been thoroughly road-tested(!). RuleSpeak was one of three reference notations for the 2007 OMG standard SBVR[1], a very deep body of work in the fields of logic, linguistics and software engineering, and is fully consistent with that standard. (SBVR does not standardize notation.) It’s been thoroughly guru-tested as well(!).            Emily Springer, business architect at a major insurance company, says[2]: 

“Before we started using RuleSpeak to express business rules, business people had no idea what they were signing off on.  Introducing RuleSpeak to express business rules was fundamental to getting business people really engaged up-front in truly understanding the business side of requirements.”

RuleSpeak is not a formal language or syntax per se, but a set of best practices.  Its purpose is to bring greater clarity and consistency in communicating business rules among business people, Business Analysts, and IT, especially behavioral rulesand those many definitional rules that cannot be handled by decision tables. Originally for English, parallel versions for Dutch, Spanish, and German were released in 2009.  Versions for other natural languages are under development.  RuleSpeak and SBVR recognize that business rules need to be expressed declaratively as complete sentences.  If sentences aren’t the best way to communicate many kinds of know-how, we sure do waste a lot of money on all those years of grade-school and university education!
[1] Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules – See the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com for discussion.
[2]from Building Business Solutions: Business Analysis with Business Rules, by Ronald G. Ross with Gladys S.W. Lam, An IIBA® Sponsored Handbook, Business Rule Solutions, LLC, 2011, 304 pp,http://www.brsolutions.com/bbs

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The End of Words?

Will we ever stop needing words to write business rules? No. So long as businesses sign written agreements, follow regulations, verbalize business policies, capture product/service know-how, write guidelines and instructions, etc., we will need words and RuleSpeak-like sentences[1]. Businesses will always need traceability to prove compliance, fidelity with business intent, and validity of reasoning, and those are all things ultimately only words and sentences can do.


[1] See www.RuleSpeak.com for free guidelines.

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