Are All Rules Business Rules?

Registration is free. Login or register to view/download this content.


President, Strategic Value Partners
Neal McWhorter is the President of Strategic Value Partners, a specialty consulting firm that provides leadership for organizations looking to improve the business benefits they derive from their technology investment. Neal's lead major re-engineering and modernization projects as well as worked to help organizations build their own internal capabilities. Neal has worked with multiple large organizations to help them gain improved productivity and time-to-market by leveraging techniques including Business Process and Business Rules analysis. In the last couple of years Neal's focused a lot of his attention on the Business Architecture approach as a way of helping organizations gain visibility into how their portfolio of initiatives interrelate and helping them rationalize conflicting demands.

The Business Rules movement has begun the transition from being a niche approach to entering the mainstream of organizations’ project techniques. Where once organizations saw only business processes and requirements, they now also see business rules. In fact, it’s tempting to see everything as business rules. In the midst of the movement’s first encounter with fame and fortune, it’s a good time to ask what the real value proposition is for business rules and whether everything that is potentially a rule should be treated as a business rule.

It is often said that the intent of implementing a business rules approach is to make it possible for the business user to be able to control their own rules. For this to happen, business users must be able to design executable business level specifications and business rules are a key part of this. In most organizations, operational business personnel don’t see this as a primary responsibility and they don’t have the skillset necessary to do this task. Instead, these business users supply to business analysts a set of goals and characteristics of the solution and expect the business analysts to design a complete business solution.

However, the business analyst is stymied in their efforts by the need for IT to transform the solution that they conceptualized into an IT algorithm. Anyone who has written a specification and then later struggled to understand the IT implementation of that same specification knows that this is the critical juncture where the business intent is lost. The business rules movement is all about addressing that disconnect and making it possible for the business analyst to develop a business rules specification and have it loaded into an IT execution environment without it being changed in any way.

What distinguishes business rules from other types of rules is that business rules are built upon a business vocabulary foundation that corresponds directly to concepts that subject matter experts are already accustomed to manipulating. In other words, what makes a business rule special isn’t anything structural about the rule itself. What makes a business rule unique is that it is free of references to non-business domain concepts.

Another sign of the success of the business rules movements is that the marketplace is awash with tools that purport to support rules. These tools run the gamut from business integration platforms, to ETL tools, to office automation applications and finally to business rules engines. While there’s no reason to question that they support some form of rules, it is reasonable to question whether or not these products support business rules. After all, not all rule-based processing is isolated within the business domain. In fact it’s quite common to see rules purely in the IT domain.

The answer isn’t straightforward because there are many cases where business rules could be implemented in these products. The key issue is whether it is appropriate to use these tools for business rules. And if it isn’t then are there any non-business rules that might be appropriate to use them for. The question of appropriateness gets at the core of the business rules movement.

Earlier we discussed that the core issue the business rules movement is focused on is addressing the empowerment of domain experts to create executable business specifications. But defining the boundary of those business specifications can sometimes seem like picking next year’s hot color. After all, when we see something like the following rule we want to have some clear way of saying that it is or isn’t a business rule:

If Mortgage Origination System = BigMortgageSystem and

Conformance Evaluation = Processed


Conformance Step Indicator = Initialized

The answer is that we can’t determine whether or not this is a business rule simply by reading the conditions and actions of the rule. After all, these conditions and actions are identical to what we see in a business or non-business rule. What drives the determination that a rule is a business rule is that all of the terms being reasoned on and the action taken as a result of the conditions in the rule being met, are all concepts that the domain expert would expect to see.

That doesn’t mean that rules aren’t valuable to solve other kinds of problems. In fact that is exactly why rules are embedded in many other tools in the marketplace. These tools typically aim to apply rules to the transformation and enrichment tasks that are purely within the IT realm. These tasks involve things like creating values that are meaningful in the business domain by applying a set of rules against a series of implementation specific fields. This type of work isn’t business rules work because the motivation for this kind of rule is to convert the IT view of the world into a view that corresponds to how the business analyst sees the world. But this is important work since this work creates the basis upon which the vocabulary of business rules is built. But business rules shouldn’t be implemented in these tools because the tools don’t provide a comprehensive capability for developing the business vocabulary that is essential for allowing business specifications to be created, nor do they provide a pathway for integration with other components of the business specification such as business processes.

In the end, what makes something a business rules is that it is written in terms of the concepts a business analyst or business domain expert normally works with. A business rules solution provides the capability of expressing this, along with the ability to integrate with other elements of the business specification including business processes. Mixing business rules with non-business rules is something to avoid because it undermines the business analyst’s ability to specify and control those rules. And by undermining the business analysts control we undermine the ability to achieve the business flexibility and responsiveness that the business rules movement is all about.

Similar Resources

Featured Certificate: BPM Specialist

Everyone starts here.

You're looking for a way to improve your process improvement skills, but you're not sure where to start.

Earning your Business Process Management Specialist (BPMS) Certificate will give you the competitive advantage you need in today's world. Our courses help you deliver faster and makes projects easier.

Your skills will include building hierarchical process models, using tools to analyze and assess process performance, defining critical process metrics, using best practice principles to redesign processes, developing process improvement project plans, building a center of excellence, and establishing process governance.

The BPMS Certificate is the perfect way to show employers that you are serious about business process management. With in-depth knowledge of process improvement and management, you'll be able to take your business career to the next level.

Learn more about the BPM Specialist Certificate





  • Business Process Management Specialist
  • Earning your Business Process Management Specialist (BPMS) Certificate will provide you with a distinct competitive advantage in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. With in-depth knowledge of process improvement and management, you’ll be able to take your business career to the next level.
  • BPM Professional Certificate
    Business Process Management Professional
  • Earning your Business Process Management Professional (BPMP) Certificate will elevate your expertise and professional standing in the field of business process management. Our BPMP Certificate is a tangible symbol of your achievement, demonstrating your in-depth knowledge of process improvement and management.


BPM Certification

  • Make the most of your hard-earned skills. Earn the respect of your peers and superiors with Business Process Management Certification from the industry's top BPM educational organization.




  • Operational Excellence Specialist
  • Earning your Operational Excellence Specialist Certificate will provide you with a distinct advantage in driving organizational excellence and achieving sustainable improvements in performance.


OpEx Professional Certificate

  • Operational Excellence Professional
  • Earn your Operational Excellence Professional Certificate and gain a competitive edge in driving organizational excellence and achieving sustainable improvements in performance.



  • Agile BPM Specialist
  • Earn your Agile BPM Specialist Certificate and gain a competitive edge in driving business process management (BPM) with agile methodologies. You’ll gain a strong understanding of how to apply agile principles and concepts to business process management initiatives.  

Business Architecture



  • Business Architecture Specialist
  • The Business Architecture Specialist (BAIS) Certificate is proof that you’ve begun your business architecture journey by committing to the industry’s most meaningful and credible business architecture training program.

  • Business Architecture Professional
  • When you earn your Business Architecture Professional (BAIP) Certificate, you will be able to design and implement a governance structure for your organization, develop and optimize business processes, and manage business information effectively.

BA CertificationCertification

  • Make the most of your hard-earned skills. Earn the respect of your peers and superiors with Business Architecture Certification from the industry's top BPM educational organization.




  • Digital Transformation Specialist
  • Earning your Digital Transformation Specialist Certificate will provide you with a distinct advantage in today’s rapidly evolving business landscape. 


  • Digital Transformation Professional
  • The Digital Transformation Professional Certificate is the first program in the industry to cover all the key pillars of Digital Transformation holistically with practical recommendations and exercises.



  • Agile Business Analysis Specialist
  • Earning your Agile Business Analysis Specialist Certificate will provide you with a distinct advantage in the world of agile software development.


  • DAS Certificate
  • Decision Automation Specialist
  • Earning your Decision Automation Certificate will empower you to excel in the dynamic field of automated decision-making, where data-driven insights are pivotal to driving business innovation and efficiency.