The Big Deal: Business Governance of Business Rules

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Business Relationship Manager - Product Lifecycle Management, Chevron Corporation

The words “business governance of business rules” is an extremely important, if not explosive, topic.  It alludes to turning over the keys of the business back to the business itself.  Yet, doing so is an organizationally complex issue.

A reasonable goal is to provide an easy way for business (versus technical) people to write or change the rules of the business, such that doing so maximizes the understanding of the rules, while minimizing the pain (and rigor) of writing them.  If writing them properly is too difficult, they won’t do it.

So, it is advantageous to start with a pure business model and write rules for the model as close to their original business statement as possible, employing the least rigor while still minimizing ambiguity and defining business terms.  This goal is a very big deal.

In reality, the process of deciphering a business statement into an unambiguous business rule is not a binary one of transforming the original statement into an eloquent business-oriented rule statement.  In pulling apart complex original statements, defining terms, identifying conditions and conclusions and facts, the formal structuring already creeps in.  The question arises: how much formality is needed at what point in time in the life of a business rule for a particular project?

To answer this question, the business rules approach for a project should take into consideration the following cultural issues:

  • Who should do the initial translation from original statement to business-oriented rule?
  • What kind of speed is needed to meet deadlines?
  • What is the cost associated with the task and speed?
  • What kind of expertise is needed and is it available?
  • How easy is it to separate the business model from related technical models? and
  • How much patience does the business community have for learning and carrying out the process of authoring and managing rules as new assets?

The truth is that a business rules approach needs to be more rigorous in expressing rules than is available with free form natural language.  But, is it possible to apply a structured, formal grammar such that the process of doing so does not become overwhelming to business-oriented (versus linguistically-oriented) people?

Because grammar standards for rules are in the works, it may not merit the development of an in-house rule grammar at this time.  A workable approach is to analyze an original business expression that suggests a hidden rule and do the following with it, iteratively:

  • Remove the process implications
  • Decompose into atomic thoughts
  • Minimize the use of ELSE
  • Minimize the use of complex Ors
  • Recast it as a set of conditions and a result
  • Agree upon standard term names and definitions.

As the cost, time, and patience allow, the iterative nature of the above activities will push the rule authors further into formal grammar, one step at a time.

Today, the task facing the linguists in rule standards committees is to achieve grammars that are standard and comprehensive, but also usable by common business people.  The task facing the business rule engines and other rule automation companies is to establish export transformations from rule authoring environments into, and meta-integration with, the design and technical deployment.

All in all, it is a big deal, but we can take it one step at a time.

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