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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Posts Tagged ‘rulebook management’

Good News From Business Rules: #2 – 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 managementyou need a special breed of tool, which I call a general rulebook system (GRBS).[1] Such tools are readily available.[2] 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. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1] “What You Need to Know About Rulebook Management” by Ronald G. Ross, Business Rules Journal, Vol. 10, No. 9 (Sep. 2009). http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2009/b500.html  
[2] For a best-of-breed example, see RuleXpress by www.RuleArts.com.

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Fundamental Challenges Facing Your Business: #3 – Managing Operational Business Knowledge

Many or most IT methodologies remain essentially in the Dark Ages with respect to knowledge management. They seem to focus blindly on pumping out code faster and faster. We may be living in a knowledge economy, but we’re sure not acting like it. When I say knowledge management I don’t mean what probably comes to mind. I’m not talking about fuzzy text in vast e-mail archives or tacit knowledge in people’s heads. I’m talking about explicit business rules. Business rules (done correctly) represent knowledge – core operational knowledge. Many companies today are in peril of losing or outsourcing that knowledge. Who’s to blame? Business managers for not ‘getting it’ of course. But that’s just where the buck stops. Ultimately practitioners are to blame. They’re not making core operational knowledge tangible to their managers. How you make that kind of knowledge ‘real’? True business-side rulebook management[1] (which is not the kind BRMS offer).[2] That’s no longer optional either. In a knowledge economy your company simply can’t afford to lose its business rules! ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ www.BRSolutions.com


[1] Ronald G. Ross, “What You Need to Know About Rulebook Management,” Business Rules Journal, Vol. 10, No. 9 (Sep. 2009), URL:  http://www.BRCommunity.com/a2009/b500.html
[2] For best-of-class example, see RuleXpress from www.RuleArts.com.

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Meta Here. Meta There. Meta Everywhere?

As a young database professional in the mid-1970s I grew up on metadata – data that describes and defines other data. In fact, I wrote one of the first books explaining it from a data-as-corporate-resource point of view in 1980.[1] Who knew that in the 21st century there would ever be such a thing as big data, more dependent on metadata (if that’s possible) than even ‘regular’ (transaction) data?! Or that the metadata of phone conversations would become a central artifact in the struggle over civil liberties?! Back then it never much occurred to me that there could be other kinds of “meta”. Well, except maybe metaphysics. But you don’t want to go there. That’s some realm beyond physics where physics isn’t physics any more.[2] Anyway, I was wrong about there not being other important kinds of “meta”. Other Meta’s In the 1990s I learned there was such a thing as meta-rules – rules that govern rules. That led to RuleSpeak® – rules for expressing rules in structured natural language.[3] It also more recently led to new thinking about the engineering of governance – rules guiding the creation, approval and dissemination of business policies in an organization. (Think rulebook management as governance infrastructure.) I’m also pretty sure there could be metaprocesses – processes that orchestrate or transform other processes. It seems to me that one goal of intelligent agents is exactly that. What else? I’m no expert on that. What other meaningful kinds of “meta” are there? It’s fun to play with the question words where, who, and when, but I don’t think there are any real “meta’s” to those. I could be be wrong. Thoughts? I do have one strict rule for judging when you have something truly “meta”. Here’s my rule: Some meaningful verb(s), not a preposition, must be used in defining a “meta” thing. Examples we’ve already discussed:
  • Metadata – data that describes and defines data. (You should not say just “data about data”.)
  • Meta-rule – rule that governs rules. (You should not say just “rules about rules”.)
  • Metaprocess – process that orchestrates or transforms other processes. (You should not say just “processes about processes”.)
Where else could you look for “meta’s”? Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary (MWUD) defines the kind of “meta” we’re discussing here as follows[4]:

3b: of a higher logical type – in nouns formed from names of disciplines and designating new but related disciplines such as can deal critically with the nature, structure, or behavior of the original ones

MWUD gives these examples (the verbs are mine):
  • metalanguage – language for discussing languages.
  • metatheory theory for structuring theories.
  • metasystem – system for organizing systems.
In science & research literature these days you commonly read about meta-analysis. An article in The Economist recently defined meta-analysis as “a technique which uses entire studies as single data points in an overarching statistical analysis”. In other words, an analysis that analyzes other analyses. I wonder if there is such a thing as meta-architecture – architecture for designing architectures? That’s certainly an interesting question, and I’m not certain I know the answer. Thoughts? I do know there’s meta-vocabulary – vocabulary that enables communication about vocabularies. That’s a central feature of the OMG standard SBVR (Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules).[5] I can tell you with great certainty that a meta-vocabulary is not the same thing as metadata – not by a long shot! I can also tell you that in a knowledge economy, meta-vocabulary will ultimately prove more important than metadata. The Ultimate Metas I believe there’s also such a thing as meta-knowhow – knowhow that enables the organizing of other knowhow. Unfortunately, as few business practitioners today know how important meta-knowhow is as knew how important metadata was in the mid-1970s. That will change. And it won’t take long. Meta-knowhow for organizing core operational business knowhow[6] is essential not only to play in the knowledge economy, but simply to contain the costs of operating as we do today. Best practices already exist for the area. Companies are paying a huge (and unsustainable) price for not engaging with them. I will have much more to say about meta-knowhow in the near future. The most interesting and powerful “meta” of all, however, has to be meta-idea – an idea that enables the birthing (ideation[7]) of (other) ideas. These are the things that bootstrap whole cultures to a new level of intellectual empowerment. Examples: (the ideas of) libraries, encyclopedias and universal education. In The Second Machine Age[8] the authors argue convincingly that with the internet’s true coming of age we’re living the next big meta-idea right now. It’s hard to argue the point. You (the reader) are experiencing it at this very moment. After all, how likely is it that we would be conceptualizing “meta” together here if it weren’t for the internet?! P.S. The concept “meta” is itself actually a meta-idea. Now there’s a good brain teaser if you want to play with it! www.BRSolutions.com


[1] Data Dictionaries and Data Administration: Concepts and Practices for Data Resources Management, by Ronald G. Ross, AMACOM (American Management Association), New York, 1981, 454pp. The definition of metadata in the preceding sentence is straight from the glossary, pp. 432.
[2] I mean the Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary definition 1b(1): something that deals with what is beyond the physical or the experiential.
[3] See www.RuleSpeak.com. The RuleSpeak guidelines are free.
[4] MWUD’s meaning for metaphysics is different: 3a: beyond : transcending. It lists examples as metapsychosis, metageometry, metabiological, and metempirics (meta-empirics). Let’s not go there(!). The “meta” I mean (definition 3b) is far more specific and useful, even if highly abstract.
[5] Refer to the SBVR Insider section on www.BRCommunity.com.
[6] For discussion of operational business know-how, refer to my posts Single Source of Business Truth (http://www.brsolutions.com/2014/03/18/single-source-of-business-truth/) and Managing Know-How in the Knowledge Economy: What Role Do Business Rules Play? (http://www.brsolutions.com/2013/08/12/managing-know-how-in-the-knowledge-economy-what-role-do-business-rules-play/).
[7] MWUD definition: the process of entertaining and relating ideas.
[8] The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2014, pp. 306.

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The Terms of Governance

You can find definitions and discussion of all terms in blue on Business Rule Community: http://www.brcommunity.com/BBSGlossary.pdf ~~~~~~~~ 1. Business Governance We define business governance as follows: 

a  process, organizational function, set of techniques, and systematic approach for creating and deploying business policies and business rules into day-to-day business activity

Our definition is based on Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary [MWUD] definitionsfor governance 1, 2a, 4a, and 5. Why should any divergent definition be created?

1: the act or process of governing

2a : the office, power, or function of governing

4a: the manner or method of governing : conduct of office

5: a system of governing

And have a look at the MWUD definition of govern [1a]: 

to exercise arbitrarily or by established rules continuous sovereign authority over; especially:  to control and direct the making and administration of policy in. 

Note the high-profile roles of rules and policies in that definition.  ‘Governing’ a business involves coordinating how business policies and business rules are created (the making … of) and deployed (managed, distributed and monitored) within day-to-day business operations (administration).  Clearly, business governance and business rules are directly linked.  Why haven’t more people recognized the direct link between business governance and business rules?! 2. Governance Decision The original decision to create a business policy or business rule is an example of a governance decisionGovernance decisions should be part of a special business process, the governance process, which also coordinates deployment and retirement of business rules To support business governance you need a systematic approach, which is provided by a rulebook and general rulebook system (GRBS).  These tools also provide the traceability needed to support compliance. 3. Governance Process We define governance process as follows: 

a series of business actions and checkpoints indicating who should be doing what (business roles), and when, with respect to deploying business policy and business rules

That just follows naturally, doesn’t it? ~~~~~~~~~~~ Excerpted 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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Managing Know-How in the Knowledge Economy: What Role Do Business Rules Play?

I’ve been writing a lot recently about the knowledge economy and what makes a business smart. Let me dig a little deeper. The kind of knowledge I’m talking about might be better described as know-how.

know-how:  accumulated practical skill or expertness …  especially:  technical knowledge, ability, skill, or expertness of this sort[1]

Know-how that you can encode and retain is represented by business rules and the structured business vocabularies (concept models) on which the business rules are based.  Know-how is a subset, a small one probably, of knowledge.  Briefly, knowledge can range from practical to theoretical, from certain to probabilistic, and from frequently applicable to infrequently applicable.  At the risk of saying the obvious, you can’t run the day-to-day operations of a business on knowledge that is theoretical, probabilistic, or infrequently applicable.  In short, business rules are about know-how management, a strictly limited subset of knowledge management. Like knowledge, know-how can be either tacit (in people’s heads) or explicit.  The classic test for when knowledge is tacit is ‘lose the person, lose the knowledge’.  Obviously you want to retain know-how. As a senior manager recently put it, “No organization should depend on absent brains.”

know-how retention:  expressing know-how explicitly in a form understandable by business people and business analysts, and managing the know-how, such that it is always available for future reference or use (by those capable and authorized)

The over-time infrastructure needed to retain know-how is provided by a general rulebook system (GRBS).  It’s what rule management should really be all about. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ 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

[1] Merriam-Webster Unabridged Dictionary

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Changes in Business Policy? Think Rulebook Management & Smart Governance

United Airlines recently rolled out this new business policy regarding upgrades on one of its routes. Once you get past the fluff, it simply says its Houston-Lima route is no longer eligible for free upgrades. A practicable version of the business policy would be a bit wordier. How easy would it be for your company to deploy a change in business policy like this to all relevant operations and IT systems?  How long would it take and how much in resources would it consume? Would the results be traceable and reversible? The ‘thinking’ part of changing business policies will never be easy. The goal of rulebook management is to make the discovery and deployment parts as easy as single clicks. Why not move toward smart governance today?!

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The Gigantic Logjam

A reader of my blog observed that rulebook management often faces the same organizational challenges as business architecture. So true. Some 30,000-foot thoughts about why it’s so hard so get organizations to adopt them …

1. John Zachman says enterprises (organizations) are the most complicated things ever invented by humans. Now I can think of some things that are pretty darn complicated … say nuclear weapons … but ultimately they reduce to mathematical equations. Businesses don’t. He’s probably right.

2. We’ve been at automating enterprises for how long? Say 50 years? Only one generation. Our generation (well, mine anyway). There might be a few things we haven’t figured out yet?!

3. The power of computers has increased faster than our imagination about how to use them. Add to that the huge inertia faced in changing the current skill base (much less the current legacy portfolios themselves) and it all adds up to … a gigantic logjam.

And that’s where we sit today. Management feels pain, but they can’t diagnose the real sources of the pain. IT knows … well … IT. The economics of the current scheme no longer produce real value except at the edges of operations (e.g., analytics, social media, etc.). And the current infrastructure is no longer scalable or sustainable cost-wise. Logjam. But what happens in a logjam? Pressure builds up and eventually it bursts. So let me repeat my prediction made a few posts back … and add that something equivalent will eventually happen for business architecture.

>> In the long run the whole equation will change. The fundamental problem lies with the fact that business rules still have to be programmed. (Even production rules are programming.) Take programmers out of the business of implementing rules, put business analysts and skilled writers in their place (with appropriate tools), and the current economics of rule management (and IT as a whole) can be improved by at least an order of magnitude. At least!

Entrepreneurs will eventually see the opportunity. (I just hope some of them are in North America.)

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What do you need for success in managing business rules as a business proposition, not an IT responsibility?

Guest Post by Alexander Davidge ~~~~~~~ Alexander’s response to the title question, and to my post: http://goo.gl/fn96B … My reply and a prediction below. Firstly Ron, it is absolutely a business space and responsibility. However, understanding the architecture of information and systems will as often as not be required. There are many areas with typically high IT asosociations such as this where the “double deep” professional is needed (workflow management and orchestration, web marketing, business intelligence, etc., etc.) — i.e. individuals who have to know their business or operations subject matter in depth but have a level of mastery over their IT too to really excel. From my limited exposure I would say a common problem is one of incorrect balance.

1. The IT capital or project investment (which is easy to articulate on a balance sheet or business case) overshadows the governance or talent need.

2. The expertise or lack thereof of … a user base oversteers the direction rather than an informed senior level assessment and direction.

3. The urgent and important crowds out the long term, and a business rulebook rapidly becomes riddled with exceptions and loses value and credibility.

So I don’t see it as much about a binary challenge between business and IT responsibilities, but the IT problem being a common and prominent example of a lack of executive sponsorship and stewardship. It’s almost trite to say the fix has to start with an executive appreciation of the value followed by ownership and commitment to making it work. Find a business problem or opportunity which doesn’t fit that profile! So not a very helpful reply I’m afraid. What are your thoughts Ron? Where do you see the malaise being resolved (if at all)? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ My reply … Alexander, Well said. Unfortunately I can’t disagree with any of your points. There are a great many vested interests and other sources of inertia lined up against it. So we’ll just have to keep plugging away with the message, showing success stories, and motivating change. I’ve been at it for the best part of 15 years … I have no intention of giving up as long as I’m living and breathing. Now this part might surprise you. In the long run the whole equation will change. The fundamental problem lies with the fact that business rules still have to be programmed. (Even production rules are programming.) Take programmers out of the business of implementing rules, put business analysts and skilled writers in their place (with appropriate tools), and the current economics of rule management (and IT as a whole) can be improved by at least an order of magnitude. There is a sea change coming, tsunami in proportions. Most people will be blindsided by it. It will happen sometime within this decade. Mark my words.

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