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


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Posts Tagged ‘enforcement level’

When is a Business Architecture a Dumb One?

In a recent discussion on social media I was explaining what I thought would make a business architecture smart. Tom Graves replied that he wasn’t sure what made one smart, but that he did know what makes one dumb. His criteria …  
    • rigid rule-based boundaries.
    • over-reliance on rigid true/false rules.
    • attempts to implement most or all of that architecture through automated ‘business-rules engines’ that can only work with rigid true/false rules.
He went on to say that these criteria suggest that “a first requirement for a smart business-architecture is that it go beyond all these mistakes.” Tom’s emphasis on ‘true/false’ rules needs to be carefully qualified. After all, you do want the internal workings of a rule engine to be based on formal logic. I believe what he really means is an approach that allows no shades of gray with respect to nuanced enforcement of business rules. On that point I hardily agree. In addition, Tom got me to agree with him on two major points about the current state of the industry. In his words …

1. The quest for ‘certainty’ in an inherently-uncertain world is futile. Rules of all kinds exist to help human thinking and human judgment, not to act as a substitute for it.

2. The software vendors … are frankly not far short of committing fraud with many of the claims they make as to the efficacy and validity of their ‘business-rules engines’.

The term business rule unfortunately has been hijacked by software vendors to mean something very different from the original concept. For example, production rules[1] (the basis for the majority of current product offerings) are not business rules. Full stop. This distorted view of business rule needs to be rectified. Don’t let yourself be sucked into it! For real business rules there are three (optional) supplemental specifications for each business rule statement[2]:

(1) level of enforcement

(2) violation (breach) response

(3) violation (breach) message.

It is through these specifications that the richness of behavioral coordination can arise.

[1] Production rules (also called productions) can be used to implement business rules, but are not business rules per se.  Production rules typically provide support for action selection, which results in non-declarative statements. According to Wikipedia, a production rule system (essentially, an expert system) is …

a computer program typically used to provide some form of artificial intelligence, which consists primarily of a set of rules about behavior

Production rule systems are a class of platform whose rule format and operation are aimed toward developers.  According to Wikipedia:

“A production system provides the mechanism necessary to execute productions in order to achieve some goal for the system.  Productions consist of two parts:  a sensory precondition (or ‘IF’ statement) and an action (or ‘THEN’). If a production’s precondition matches the current state of the world, then the production is said to be triggered.  If a production’s action is executed, it is said to have fired.”

[2] Refer to “Breaking the Rules: Breach Questions” http://www.brsolutions.com/2012/06/03/breaking-the-rules-breach-questions/

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Do Business Rules Define the Operational Boundaries of an Organization?

Have you heard business rules described that way? You certainly have to stop and think about it for a minute. Without additional explanation the term “boundaries” could easily be misleading. For example the term could be interpreted incorrectly as suggesting business rules define scope – i.e., the operational edges of an organization or an initiative. They don’t. Let’s revisit the meaning of “business rule”. Business rules are guides or criteria used to:
    • shape conduct or actions
    • form judgments of behavior
    • make decisions
Respectively, yes, business rules therefore establish “boundaries” for distinguishing:
    • acceptable or desirable conduct or actions from what is unacceptable or undesirable.
    • proper behavior from what is improper behavior.
    • correct or optimal decisions from what are incorrect or suboptimal decisions.
But these “boundaries” (delimitations) are a result of applying business rules, not what business rules fundamentally are (i.e., guides or criteria). Furthermore, these boundaries (delimitations) are not as rigid as the term “boundary” suggests. Depending on enforcement level, many business rules can be overridden with proper authority or explanation, or even ignored (e.g., guidelines). Level of enforcement is an organizational decision. Note that the transgressing behavior in such cases is nonetheless still within the scope of organizational operations. My bottom line re “boundary”. Describing business rules can …
    • misleading.
    • wrongly suggest scope.
    • incorrectly assume all business rules are strictly enforced.
But otherwise sure, business rules do set up boundaries (delimitations) for how activity in the organization is undertaken. And that’s especially important when you start thinking about smart processes – as my recent posts suggest.

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