Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
Enabling Operational Excellence
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Where are Your Business Rules … In a Big-P Process Dead Zone?

On an EA LinkedIn group last week, Nick Malik wrote the following about business rules in Zachman Framework 3.0: I’ll bite. If the ‘enterprise ontology’ is similar to the periodic table of elements, then business rules are molecules. They are compositions of elements with specific implications, embedded in event handling logic. Why would you expect to see them, or models of them, on the Zachman Framework? OK… that was my humble, and perhaps uninformed, opinion. You are the master of business rules. You tell me where you’d see them.” Nick, You know the definition of ‘master’, right? Same as ‘expert’ … someone who has made all the known mistakes. Zachman and I have had over-dinner conversations for many years about the question of where business rules fit (or don’t) in the Framework, even more so in the past couple of years. I won’t speak for John, but I think he agrees. Yes, business rules are ‘molecules’ and yes, they are ‘composites’. So you don’t see business rules anywhere in Framework 3.0. Instead, if you look at the new cross-column thin gray lines, at row 2 in particular, some or many of those could be business rules. Aside: For convenience, here’s a zipped pdf of the new 3.0 version (with permission): ZF3.0.zip [approx 1.5M]. Visit Zachman’s new website for all the latest. The thing about molecules or composites – unlike the primitives – is that they can be conceived in many different ways. Each conceptualization leads you to a different representation approach, and each representation approach leads you ultimately to a particular implementation strategy. Some implementation strategies, of course, are better than others (by a mile!). Moving Beyond the Big-P Approach At the risk of over-simplification, you have two basic choices for conceptualization, and ultimately implementation, of composites: procedural or declarative. Historically, we have embedded business rules in process models and in procedural code. We have taken the column 2 (how) primitive, process, and used it to create composites. At the scale of today’s business, this Big-P process paradigm simply doesn’t work. Why? The thin gray lines in Zachman 3.0 are really about how the business is configured for operation. (At row 6 the thin gray lines represent the current actual configuration of the operational business.) In the Big-P paradigm, all building-block ‘molecules’ become thoroughly entangled with flow (input-transform-output). The result is essentially a semantic dead zone. You’re never sure what things really mean, and you can’t easily disentangle them. There are no built-in impediments to replication … and no opportunity to use logic to automatically evaluate configurations (models/designs) for conflicts, anomalies and other logical defects. Aside: The Big-P approach also has implications for data models. In current practices, there is no way to automatically perform any meaningful verification of data models either. The future lies with granular, declarative, semantically-rich specification of building-block composites (‘molecules’) for configuration. I know I used the ‘S’ word there (‘semantics’) but I’m simply talking about structured business vocabularies (SBVR-style fact models). Fact models, by the way, must cover anything with a name, including instances from columns 2-6, so they too are composite rather than primitive. Aside: Was I happy to see John use the ‘O’ word (‘ontology’) in 3.0? I think I know why he did it – to emphasize the Framework is not a simple taxonomy, but rather something rigorous enough to potentially reason over. I’ll let others judge that choice. Re-factoring the Big-P Paradigm Clearly, business rules are one building-block composite for disentangled forms of enterprise configuration. Another thing not considered a primitive – Nick mentioned them – are events. They too possess the granular, configurable potential of business rules. And yes Nick is right – events and business rules have a very close relationship, one not widely appreciated. (If the industry did, it would already be taking a very different approach to process modeling.) Aside: But no, Nick, I would not ’embed’ business rules in ‘event handling logic’ … no more than I would embed ‘event handling’ in business rules. Unfortunately, expert systems do allow you to do that. What else do we need as building-block composites to configure an enterprise at a given point in time? Let me propose decisions – but with caution. ‘Decision” is the buzzword de jeure. No, decisions are not a cure-all, no they do not replace business rules or events, and no they do not solve all our problems. But in proper perspective, yes, they are most definitely a building-block composite. Smart Configuration Models Big-P configuration of the enterprise is like setting it in concrete. To replace that flagging paradigm we need smart configuration models. Such models will feature at least: (a) business rules, (b) business events, and (c) operational business decisions. And of course, structured business vocabularies (fact models). Smart configuration models should be the new mantra for enterprise architecture. In a world of constant and accelerating change, I see no alternative. By pinning down the primitives definitively in 3.0, Zachman has opened the door to a whole new realm of rich architectural potential. But there’s more. Smart configuration schemes must address additional challenges facing business today. These include business governance and compliance – essential in a world of constant change – and just-in-time (JIT) delivery of know-how for operational workers. In our new book coming out the end of September, we call systems built using smart configuration schemes business operation systems (BOS), as opposed to ‘information systems’. I think you’ll find these new ideas quite exciting. Watch for them!

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Ronald G. Ross

Ronald G. Ross

Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.

Comments (2)

  • Nick Malik

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    Hi Ron,

    Excellent article. You are corrrect in stating that business rules are seperable from event handling logic. In my own defense, if systems emerge that can support “smart configuration,” I expect that they will allow an organization to configure standard events or declare their own. Such a system would, I hope, recognize the interaction between those events and the business rules that are triggered as the events are managed.

    I would like to learn more about the concept you are terming “decisions.” It sounds like there are many variations on that term that could be used. I’m curious about whether you are looking solely at operational decisions (for managing the flow of day-to-day events), or if you are looking to capture “change events” which are intentional disruption events that may be required from time to time to implement an altogether new set of processes and flows as the business models themselves change.

    (Alas, I live with one foot in the future, one foot in the present, and both hands embracing the changes needed to move between them… to me, “decisions” are all about the conscious need for intentional change, including creative destruction and reconstruction of processes).

    Note that the term “Big-P” is not widely defined. Perhaps if you define it, it would make this article a tad more readable.

    I’m looking forward to your book.
    — Nick

    • Ronald G. Ross

      Ronald G. Ross

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      Nick – You said “I would like to learn more about the concept you are terming “decisions.” It sounds like there are many variations on that term that could be used. I’m curious about whether you are looking solely at operational decisions (for managing the flow of day-to-day events), or if you are looking to capture “change events” which are intentional disruption events that may be required from time to time to implement an altogether new set of processes and flows as the business models themselves change.”

      >>I use the term “decision” only in the sense of “operational business decision” … the former sense above. The latter kind are perhaps even more important … but I would use some other term for them.

      You said: “Note that the term “Big-P” is not widely defined. Perhaps if you define it, it would make this article a tad more readable.”

      >>I’m open to suggestions … I use “Big-P Process” for those approaches that lump together business processes with business strategy (if any!), business rules (if recognized), business events (if recognized) … and the kitchen sink.

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