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Discussing a proposal for a decision modeling notation


Warning –this is a post about a standards process so there are a fair number of abbreviations – I tried to describe the key ones.

There is a large community of users of business rules management systems, with thousands of large companies using them to automate and improve decisions. In addition, there is a strong sense that certain elements such as decision tables are becoming standard across leading products while still using different notations. And companies are asking for standard notations because they use multiple tools and because they want to be able to hire people without having to completely retrain them.

Of course, there are some business-centric standards around the edge of Decision Management:

  • Strategy and Policy standards
    • OMG Business Motivation Model
      Strategic motivations and goals for business but not really focused on operational issues or decisions
  • Business Vocabulary and rule standards
    • OMG Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Rules
      Standard way to describe the language of a domain
    • W3C OWL
      The web ontology language standard as part of the semantic technology movement
    • OMG ODM
      The Ontology Definition Metamodel to map OWL to implementation
  • Business process standards
      The Business Process Modeling Notation, the most widely used standard for modeling business processes

Plus there are some technical standards such as the Data Mining Group’s Predictive Model Markup Language, the OMG’s Production Rule Representation and the W3C’s Rule Interchange Format. The intent would be that a transformation could be defined from this new model to a set of executable artifacts defined using these standards.

The idea then is to develop a modeling notation and supporting artifacts for business decisions that is a business representation, fits within process or event-centric architecture and could be managed using a business rules management system. The current state is that the Decision Model and Notation is a proposed Request for Proposal – that is to say it is up for approval (this week) before it is issued to the market to gather responses. The hope is to get a “BPMN for decisions”.

The scope of this RFP is:

  • A metamodel to support decisions
    A basic foundation definition of the information required to define a decision that acts as a foundation and supports methodologies for decisions management as well as format for sharing of decisions across tools.
  • Standardize at least one decision model type
    Decision tables plus others potentially
  • Support decisions used in different types of business process
    The Business Rules Task in BPMN 2.0 where a business process is a flow of tasks as well as other, more dynamic ad-hoc processes and event-driven decisions.

Realistically it would therefore need to contain:

  • A decision metamodel that covers a wide range of decision types
  • A decision model notation for this metamodel so that business people could manipulate the model
  • A specific notation for decision tables
  • (Optionally) a specific notation for other kinds of decision
  • References to business intent and therefore to the Business Motivation Model standard for instance
  • Reference to terms and facts and therefore to UML Classes or SBVR fact types
  • References to Process and therefore to BPMN

Hopefully this would result in better business models and more agile businesses through improving the amount of attention paid to modeling decisions, standardizing notation and allowing reuse across models, systems and tools.