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!
Tags: BPM, business architecture, business process, business process management, business processes, Business Rules, enterprise architecture, Zachman, Zachman Architecture Framework
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.