SBVR and the Semantic Web

07 November 2007 

One of my associates asked me if I had heard of SBVR. By and large, I hadn’t, and so I did a bit of investigation. It stands for the “Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Rules” and forms part a framework called Model-Driven Architecture (MDA). MDA is a framework provides a set of guidelines for structuring software engineering specifications, expressed as models. These models can be converted into other entities (such as software code) via automated tools. However, the problem has been that it is difficult to specify natural language, such as corporate mission statement, within a formal model.

Enter SBVR, a language standard that allows complex entities (such as a corporate enterprise) to be described formally as a set of business rules held within an MDA model. Once written, these rules could be interpreted and executed by computer. The rules would reside on computers within a business environment, allowing the running, for example, of the operational rules for an entire enterprise; or a subset such security policy or regulatory compliances. As these rules could be maintained via the model, it would allow rapid adaption when circumstances changed, eg a new operational plan or changes in the regulatory environment.

The ultimate in agile development? Well, this scenario seems a long way off. My thoughts (from a commercial perspective) are that I certainly haven’t seen any commercial demand for SBVR -  and I'm fairly sure that none of the major modelling-tool vendors supports it yet.

It’s also interesting to see that the Digital Business Ecosystem has adopted SBVR for its business modelling language and I think this marks its position in the marketplace - halfway between academic theory and commercial uptake. What I don't see at the moment is what commercial imperative which will drive it though to widespread commercial adoption. 

The one change on the horizon is that the W3C is thinking of adopting SBVR as part of their Semantic Web framework. The Semantic Web is a grand vision to allow all the material on the web to be read and understood by computers as well as by humans. This would allow a far higher degree of automation and information-mining than is currently possible and, its supporters claim, an innovation in information technology equal to the invention of the original web.

Again, this vision is some way off. Although some parts of the Semantic Web have been incorporated into today’s web, many elements of the framework remain to be designed and implemented; SBVR may become part of that framework.

So it may be that SBVR becomes folded into the ever-more-sophisticated modelling toolsets and model-translation software, which would allow businesses to automate and respond to change. However, if the Semantic Web is fully realised, then SBVR could become an essential component in another great revolution in information sharing.

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