Posts Tagged ‘sbvr’

Moulding USDL in SBVR using Business Semantics Glossary: Part 1

July 2, 2011

I truly believe in co-creation. For example, we have our Collibra software and methods regularly scrutinized by numerous master students from both technical as well as more business-oriented computer science programmes in universities across Europe.

At VU University, for example, in the context of my Business Semantics Management master class, 21 MSc students playing the role of steward formed the Amsterdam Service Modelling Community with one common purpose: building an SBVR version of the USDL service description language. There were two additional members invited playing the role of observer: Carlos Pedrinaci (representing the USDL W3C incubator group) and Ivan Razo-Zapata (our PhD student at VU working on dynamic service market place composition). Finally there was me playing the role of administrator, making a total of 24 members.

The Amsterdam Service Modelling community has 24 members (21 playing the role of "steward"; 2 as "observer"; 1 as "administrator") and is subdivided in 5 speech communities. (Note: this is an older release of the Business Semantics Glossary software)

The figure below depicts the Business Semantics Management (BSM) methodology that is established by two operational cycles (reconciliation and application) each grouping a number of modeling activities. For a summary go here and for more details see my dissertation.

Business semantics management is established by two operational cycles each grouping a number of modeling activities.

The experiment extended over a total period of 4 weeks; hence we limited ourselves to the first 4 steps of semantic reconciliation only: scope, create, refine, articulate. In September we plan to repeat this experiment  over a period of 8 weeks where we will have time to do one full cycle of BSM. Later I will also blog about similar experiments we conduct at VUB University of Brussels.

Community-driven Approach

The Amsterdam Service Modelling Community (ASMC) is modelled (in SBVR) as a semantic community. SBVR takes into account the existence of multiple perspectives on how to represent concepts (by means of vocabularies).

  • A semantic community is a group of stakeholders having a body of shared meanings. Stakeholders are people representing an organisation or a business unit.
  • A body of shared meanings is a unifying and shared understanding (perception) of the business concepts in a particular domain.  Concepts are identified by a URI.
  • A speech community is a sub-community of a semantic community having a shared set of vocabularies to refer to the body of shared meanings. A speech community groups stakeholders and vocabularies from a particular natural language in a multi-lingual community, or from a certain technical jargon.
  • A vocabulary is a set of terms and fact types (called vocabulary entries) primarily drawn from a single language to express concepts within a body of shared meanings.

Within the ASMC community, the 21 students grouped in 5 speech communities each focusing on a specific part of the USDL framework. In SBVR, speech communities are part of one semantic community and each manage their own set of vocabularies to refer to this body of shared meanings. This allows for different representations of the same business concepts.

The navigator shows (from left to right) the structure of communities and their vocabularies.

Scoping the Semantic Reconciliation Cycle

The module-based decomposition of USDL depicted below makes it easy for teams to scope. However, they all had to start from the Service and Pricing module so we could observe divergence in definitions as well, an important step in the ontology evolution process (see the Perspective Rendering principle of my PhD on BSM).

The module-based USDL framework allows for clear scoping among speech communities (by courtesy of

Create, Refine, Articulate

Below is a screenshot of the term “Service” in the Pricing and Participant vocabulary in development by the “VAAF” speech community team. The steward (indicated on the top-right) “Vlant” is responsible for selecting the right stakeholders (bottom-right) among his fellow members and engage them into the reconciliation of the term.

A term can be defined using different kinds of attributes, going from (business-oriented) descriptions and definitions to more (formal) fact types and business rules.  Currently the level of articulation is below threshold (37.5%) incentivizing the steward and stakeholders to elaborate more.

Term "Service" in the Pricing and Participant vocabulary in development by the "VAAF" speech community team.

Next time we will talk about vocabulary statistics and workflows in the software. Workflows practically implement the orchestration of reconciliation tasks to members according to their roles and responsibilities.

Cure for the Closed World Syndrome

January 14, 2010

Last I was reading Mike Bergman’s blog on the seven pillars of the open semantic enterprise. The seven pillars are a mere summary of the European Semantic Technology research programme (in which I was active as well) of the last 10 years. Mike takes the tricky but brave step to push this a bit more to industry in terms of seven pillars.

I like the idea of the open semantic enterprise. The problem however (and true for many business-it problems) is that these pillars are too technology-religious (rather than agnostic). Ontologies (I still do not like the word) should not be built by techies. That usually results in models where business concepts are labelled in tech lingo (e.g., CustIDRel, or ProdLbl-ID), and the rules to not correspond to what regulations enforce. Therefore business experts themselves must be involved in the job. In Business Process Management, business experts are supposed to model the processes conceptually in fulfillment of certain business objectives and compliant to a set of regulations. Similarly, in Business Semantics Management, business experts decide on a shared base of business semantics: i.e. meaning of vocabulary and rules used to communicate and coordinate processes, data, and applications. This happens again according to certain rules and business goals.

Agreeing on business semantics brings me to another important social pillar that is missing here, or should I say first-class citizen: the human stakeholders in the extended enterprise. Business experts in the business zone of the “semantic enterprise” must be facilitated with the right methods and tools (see e.g., Collibra or VUB STARLab) to agree on the meaning of their vocabularies and business rules (i.e. business semantics) before even thinking about flattening a version of that agreement into an enterprise information model (whether in monolithic OWL or in industry more widely known software modelling technique UML that is dubiously abused for knowledge modelling) that can be passed on to “semantic application” builders in the tech zone of the enterprise.

During the business semantics unification process, all perspectives should be taken into account: the business context drives the scope of business semantics, but as business semantics ultimately will be used to align with ICT, the technies’ perspectives should be incorporated as well. If the techies discover flaws in enterprise information model (E.g., some terms are underspecified leading to misunderstandings or so) these new requirements for starting a new consensus process is fed back to the business zone. SBVR is a promising standard OMG based (hence MOF compliant) on the proven foundations of fact-oriented modelling to allow business experts to rerpesent business vocabulary and rule semantics in a natural manner. Full-cycle Business Semantics Management then takes into account both feedback from both Business in (e.g. in SBVR) as ICT perspectives (e.g., in UML also MOF-compliant) when reconciling business semantics. Of course governance in terms of roles and responsibilities of the activities is also important. Social performance indicators must monitor the construction and management of business semantics at all time.

I also like the emphasis of the open world assumption. I have been evangelising this idea for years  (much inspired by my former lab director and PhD supervisor Robert Meersman). Today I emphasise more on the opposite notion: indeed ICT in industry suffers the closed world “syndrome”. It is inspired by the closed world assumption. That is the presumption that what is not currently known to be true, is false. On one hand, this is caused by a rather naive assumption that there would never be a need for large-scale data exchange. Such attitude is obviously hilarious in the Internet age and this quote should be eternalized in the Hall of Most Stupid Quotes next to Bill Gates’ and Bush Jr.’s historic quotes. On the other hand, the closed formats are deliberately caused by vendor-specific database formats that create lock-in this way.