“Rules?” – The Role of Data Governance in Business Rules

By Anne Smith

Over the past five-ten years, most business leaders have seen that data is a critical asset, but they have struggled to implement effective management of this asset; valuation of it has been even more elusive.  Without oversight and valuation, it becomes extremely difficult for an organization to use their data to make informed decisions.  Data that does not conform to any standards of quality, consistency or sharability is not valuable, and decisions made based on ungoverned data can be problematic.

Ensuring that an organization’s data “conforms to standards of quality, consistency and sharability” is the role of a data governance program and the responsibility of the data stewards.  However, what “standards” should be applied?  Can including the development of business rules in the responsibilities of data stewards contribute to the formation of an organization’s standards?

A business rule, as defined by the Business Rules Group, is a statement that defines or constrains some aspect of the business.  A business rule is intended to identify business structure or to control or influence the behavior of the organization.  Like a data element, a real business rule is atomic – meaning it cannot be broken down further.

Why should data stewards be concerned about business rules?  A business rule expresses actions and constraints on specific data used by the organization and the state of being for the data and its activities (creating, updating, deleting, and distributing).  Many actions that are performed against and with data are based on the implementation of a business rule.  Including the development of business rules into the responsibilities of data stewards is a logical progression of the fact that data exists for and because of these rules, and the rules should be governed just as the data is managed.  However, business rules are not procedures, since they do not describe the steps to be taken to accomplish the transition to the state described by the rule (Business Rules Group “First Paper”, 2001).

Some organizations concentrate on system-oriented business rules, since these can be modeled and defined using application meta data and any available process documentation.  However, restricting the scope to system-oriented rules limits the effectiveness of a business rules project since many applications instantiate outdated business rules.  Since there is a lack of current documentation on business (not technical) processes at many organizations, it becomes imperative that data stewards define the rules that surround the data when they create and define data.

If an organization wishes to incorporate business rule development and documentation into its data stewardship efforts, here are some points to consider:

  • Focus on the major business activities of each subject area to discover the currently relevant and foremost business rules
  • Include the examination of business rules that use human judgment as well as system activities, so that the rules document actions that are not limited by what an application does (“business” rules)
  • Examine current workflows, processes and new activities to discover essential business rules that may have been hidden
  • Review the process for defining, maintaining and enforcing business rules
  • Identify other practices within the organization that create business rules (e.g., mandates, policies, guidelines, etc.)
  • Identify a process for retiring ineffective or outdated business rules and the documentation of this change
  • Develop basic business rules during any data definition effort, recording the rules and the associated meta data, building from known and established rules to articulating new (or undefined) business rules.

Business rules can appear in many forms, and it is important for data stewards and data governance professionals to recognize each way that an organization can create a rule formally and informally.  Many rules have evolved and were never stated explicitly, but they are still business rules that will affect the data and activities of the organization.   This creates a challenge for data stewards, but the identification and documentation of appropriate business rules as part of the stewardship responsibilities can contribute to the success of a data governance program by providing a framework for the data that the stewards govern.

About the Author

Anne Marie Smith is a leading consultant in Information Management and is a frequent contributor to various IS publications. Anne Marie has over 20 years experience in information management for several corporate entities and has successfully led the development of data resource management departments within corporations and consulting organizations. Anne Marie is active in the local chapter of DAMA and serves on the board of directors of DAMA International, and is an advisor to the DM Forum. She has been an instructor of Management Information Systems (MIS) with Philadelphia, PA area colleges and universities. Anne Marie has taught topics such as: data stewardship and governance, data warehousing, business requirements gathering and analysis, metadata management and metadata strategy, information systems and data warehouse project management. Anne Marie’s areas of consulting expertise include metadata management including data stewardship and governance, information systems planning, systems analysis and design, project management, data warehouse systems assessment and development, information systems process improvement and information resource management/data resource management. Anne Marie holds the degrees Bachelor of Arts and a Master's of Business Administration in Management Information Systems from La Salle University; she has earned a PhD in MIS at Northcentral University. She is a certified logical data and process modeler and holds project management certification. Anne Marie can be reached at amsmith@ewsolutions.com

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