What is it?

SBVR, Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Rules, is a formal specification by the Object Management Group (OMG), one of the principal standards bodies for IT. It offers a well-researched standard for handling the terms, definitions and rules that a business uses as it goes about its daily operation. This information is also interesting for designers of software for the business.

Downloads on this page

If you are interested in SBVR, the downloads on this page will help you understand it and make choices. The EU-Rent Example Model is the best “way in”. It shows you what an SBVR model might look like in document form. It’s not difficult to convert this format to a structured database, or vice versa. EU-Rent, the non-existing car rental company, is something of a classic in the field of business rules and SBVR. It helps us to discuss SBVR without continuously having to make up new examples.

The other two downloads contain all the information (in the same SBVR format) that you need to make such a model. Vocabulary Documents covers the language in the model. Concept Diagrams covers the box-and-line structure diagrams that are used for visualization.

Introducing SBVR

Version 1.0 of SBVR was published by OMG in January 2008. It is intended primarily as a meta-model or schema: it “defines the vocabulary and rules for documenting the semantics of business vocabularies, business facts, and business rules”.

What’s the idea ?

In 2013, large organizations such as national healthcare insurers or airline carriers spend large budgets on all kinds of project specifications, technical business models and software designs. But most do not have a central vocabulary of business terms and rules that may be re-used for all these purposes. Many have tried half-heartedly and then abandoned the idea.

This seems amazing because the idea is so simple and straightforward. What better way to improve a business than having all stakeholders share the same concepts, terminology and meaning in the same business English?

The challenges

The reality is not so simple, of course. As an ambassador of the idea, you need to make a business case that proves to managers ahead of time that a business vocabulary will cut overall cost and yield better results. Next, you need to get everybody to agree on the knowledge they share in practice – not a mean feat. The result must be published in a way that is attractive, usable and available to all. Finally, you need to get people to actually USE it.

How can SBVR help you?

Fortunately, you can start small. If handled properly, even small vocabularies can be immediately useful. But a formal specification like SBVR will not help you overcome the organizational challenges. As you deal with those, you need all the help you can get.

SBVR’s main strength is that it leads the way to excellent content. Many people believe a vocabulary is just an alphabetical list of terms and definitions. SBVR shows the vital relationship between those terms and the business rules and processes that define business operation. It also shows how an organization can use consistent, natural business language as a basis for the more formal structures needed by software designers.

Abstract and ambitious, but visionary

SBVR’s most important contribution is not a HOW, but a WHAT: what are the meta-concepts (such as vocabulary, speech community, term, rule, fact ) that come into play when organizations use natural language in definitions of terms, rules, process designs, software requirements… ?

This is an ambitious starting point, but it is also quite abstract. SBVR doesn’t come with a step-by-step cookbook. This must be one of the reasons for its checkered reception. It has not become nearly as popular as its sibling OMG standard for process modeling, BPMN 2.0. Practitioners find it hard to imagine exactly what to do with it.

SBVR’s high level of ambition doesn’t make things easier: integrating insights from linguistics, business organization and formal logic, it’s a large and dense specification (SBVR 1.1 has 450 pages in PDF).

And yet, SBVR is a visionary approach. What SBVR does splendidly, and organizations on the whole do not do very well at all, is recognising that the quality of all manner of business rules, process designs, work instructions and project requirements depends crucially on the quality of the underlying Business Vocabulary.

SBVR promotes the use of a central terminological framework that is for the business itself, not for individual projects or departments. It provides an anatomy of business vocabulary and rules which can:

  • be re-used over time in multiple projects and situations.
  • promote a sense of community.
  • make tacit knowledge explicit.
  • be translated into formal software specifications.

Finding SBVR

You can find SBVR at