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The Role of Data Governance in Business Rules

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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 – important information for all business data stewards

Recently, 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?

Business Rule Definition

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 “Manifesto”, 2006).

Some organizations concentrate on system-oriented business rules, since these can be modeled and defined using application metadata 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.

Incorporating Business Rules into Data Governance

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 data stewardship responsibilities can contribute to the success of a data governance program by providing a framework for the data that the stewards govern.


Data stewards are tasked with the identification and documentation of many forms of metadata, business and technical.  Business rules and the processes that accompany them are an important component in every organization’s understanding of their data and its usage.


Anne Marie Smith, Ph.D.

Anne Marie Smith, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of enterprise data management, data governance, data strategy, enterprise data architecture and data warehousing. Dr. Smith is a consultant and educator with over 30 years' experience. Author of numerous articles and Fellow of the Insurance Data Management Association (FIDM), and a Fellow of the Institute for Information Management (IIM), Dr. Smith is also a well-known speaker in her areas of expertise at conferences and symposia.

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