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!
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 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 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
“We actively use the BRS business-side techniques and train our business analysts in the approach. The techniques bring clarity between our BAs & customers, plus more robust requirements for our development teams. We’ve seen tremendous value.”
Jeanine Bradley – Railinc
“A great class that explains the importance of business rules in today’s work place.”
Christopher – McKesson
“I found the course interesting and will be helpful.
I like the pragmatic reality you discuss, while a rule tool would be great, recognizing many people will use Word/Excel to capture them helps. We can’t jump from crazy to perfect in one leap!
Use of the polls is also great. Helps see how everyone else is doing (we are not alone), and helps us think about our current state.”
Trevor – Investors Group
“Instructors were very knowledgeable and could clearly explain concepts and convey importance of strategy and architecture.
It was a more comprehensive, holistic approach to the subject than other training. Emphasis on understanding the business prior to technology considerations was reassuring to business stakeholders.”
Bernard – Government of Canada
“You did a wonderful job!! The material was organized and valuable.”
Janell – Texas State University
“Your work has been one of the foundations of my success in our shared passion for data integration. It has had a huge impact on innumerable people!”