The What, Who and Why of Concept Models - A Quick Reference Summary


There’s so much buzz and interest about concept models these days, we asked Ron to summarize what they are, who they’re for, and why you need them. Here’s his response, short and readable. He’ll also touches on how you can get started, and where to find more information.

Concept Models

What is a concept model?

There are a lot of ways to understand concept models. It’s truly a multi-purpose tool:

  • A means for building shared understanding of business concepts and how they relate.
  • A technique for developing a structured business glossary.
  • A blueprint for consistently expressing textual statements such as requirements, business rules – and actually any kind of business communication.
  • An entrée for data quality improvements.
  • A necessary front-end for any business initiative that crosses silos.
  • A long-term fundamental architecture to ensure stability over years or decades for your system development.
  • A business-driven way to get started with data design.

With respect to that final point, a concept model is a roadmap for business communication and for creating other textual artifacts – not an end in itself. And yes, that does turn data modeling on its head.

Why Concept Models?

If you've never been burned by miscommunication in a business setting, you'll not really appreciate the need for a concept model. But, of course, we've all been a victim in that regard, haven't we?

Business communication can be replete with ambiguity – full of semantic potholes. You have to navigate those in a deliberate fashion.

A concept model gives you a way to talk with subject matter experts in a way you’ve never had before. It will:

  • Guide you in asking the right questions.
  • Help you achieve business clarity.
  • Show you how the pieces all fit together.
  • Make you sound smart.

The bottom line is that you should never expect customers and developers to make up for what you can’t communicate yourself precisely!

Who is it for?

You really need to think outside the box here. A concept model is something new and different. Here are some of the roles and professionals we’ve had participating in various concept model efforts – always a mix from both groups!

Business People: governance, risk and compliance managers, regulators and policy makers, legal staff, knowledge managers, product designers, and training managers.

Transformation Professionals: business analysts, business architects, data scientists, data modelers, and software professionals who support the business.

One participant on the IT side commented: “I never before realized my point of view – and my language – was still so deeply technical."

How Can You Get Started?

That’s really two questions.

1. Where do you start in the business?

Look to be helpful and add direct value. You might start with …

  • Requirements that are all over the place.
  • Business stakeholders who are frustrated by ITSpeak.
  • Problem terms that give everybody fits.
  • Compliance people who are desperate for friends and allies.
  • Agile projects (dare I say it?) having a hard time staying focused.

2. Where do you start personally to get geared up?

Now here’s the thing. None of us are taught the following in any of our BA, IT, or other professional training.

  • How to define terms in a business-friendly way. (We think we know, but we really don’t.)
  • How to track down communication disconnects in a systematic way. (By ‘systematic’ I mean language-based.)
  • How to avoid and repair semantic potholes.

It’s a huge gap in our professional repertoire. Yet we face these same problems each and every day!

So, you need to be prepared for a bit of reading and a bit of training.

But don’t be alarmed. This is career-altering kind of stuff. You will benefit your whole professional career. We’ve had people come back to us and say that time and time again. It’s very gratifying.

Want more information?

Here are some sources:

  • Go to the website and you’ll see a headline about the Business Knowledge Blueprints book. Click on that.
  • Go to the website and look through my articles. I’ve written a lot about it!

Author: Ronald Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC

Ron Ross, Principal and Co-Founder of Business Rules Solutions, LLC, is internationally acknowledged as the “father of business rules.” Recognizing early on the importance of independently managed business rules for business operations and architecture, he has pioneered innovative techniques and standards since the mid-1980s. He wrote the industry’s first book on business rules in 1994.

With BRS’s client roster of Fortune 500 companies and governments, Ron consults, speaks and teaches worldwide. He has served as the chair of the International Business Rules & Decisions Forum conference since 1997, now part of the Building Business Capability (BBC) conference.

Ron is also the author of 10 professional books, as well as the executive editor of the Business Rules Journal. Through these publications, as well as on the online forum BRCommunity and his blog, Ron enjoys sharing his knowledge and experience in consulting and business rules.

Outside of work, Ron enjoys walking his dogs, travelling with his three children, and tweeting. For fresh nuggets of information, follow him @Ronald_G_Ross!

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