BPM for Knowledge-Intensive Processes
March 13, 2009
Active knowledge modeling and business process management are two approaches for executing models of business processes. In its most recent reincarnation, business process management deals with composition, choreography and orchestration of web services. It includes mapping of data between the services, but compared to earlier workflow management systems, BPM standards such as BPEL is weak in the area of user involvement. Mechanisms for to-do-lists, progress monitoring, and manual exception handling are lacking(cf. BPEL4People, and human interaction management).
While the main objective of BPM and workflow is to automate routine tasks and procedures, AKM aims to support human beings in performing creative, knowledge-intensive work, such as collaborative product and process design. This includes project planning, work coordination and management. Below, we see how these approaches can be placed along a process spectrum, ranging from routine to knowledge intensive processes.
By emphasising interactive activation over automated execution, AKM recognizes that
- 80-90% of all work processes cannot be completely automated,
- It is the knowledge intensive and creative processes that bring most companies their competitive advantage and create the most business value,
- To unleash its power for radically transforming the way we do business, IT should focus on the core processes of innovation, rather than administration and routine production.
The user-centered AKM task management approach differs from BPM in a number of ways:
- Task and process models are owned and defined by those performing the work. Organizational control can be enforced by modeled access control policies, but it is not hardwired into the technological approach.
- Tasks and processes are modeled in the context of product, organization, and infrastructure models. Tasks create and reflect relationships and structures from these other knowledge dimensions. In particular, process and product structures should be designed and adapted side by side.
- Most processes are unique. AKM therefore represents processes as instances of task patterns. Repetitive and reusable task templates may be included in an instance model, by design or copy-and-pasted ad-hoc to meet emerging needs. A task pattern model is seldom completely predefined.
- The process structure is a reflective view that emerges from the work, rather than a straight-jacket that enforces constraints and stifles creativity. Most task models should be viewed as a plan, map or guide for action, not as a script or rule set from which no deviations are tolerated.
- Rather than automating completely predefined procedures, execution (or activation) of task pattern models should be interactive. When a model fragment is complete, some sequences, choices and decisions can be automated. When it is incomplete, users must decide what should happen next. By combining human and automated decision making, AKM is able to integrate the support for ad-hoc and routine work, covering the whole process spectrum above.
- Exceptions and deviations from plans is common in creative processes. All interactive activation services are designed according to these basic principles
- The model may be changed by some other tool or person at any time. No component is in complete control.
- The model may be incomplete or inconsistent. When a situations arise that cannot be automatically resolved, human decision makers must be involved.
- By involving users in exception handling and allowing continuous evolution of the model, complex deviation plans can be kept out of the main model, simplifying it, and making it manageable for the users.
- Business process execution is not limited to orchestration of web services and sequencing of tasks. In collaborative product design, other services such as groupware, communication tools, shared repositories, and engineering applications should also be model-configured and model-composed.
- The interplay of multiple model-activating services are mediated by an event-based coordination service. Such a loosely coupled architecture enables new services to be plugged in without re-programming the existing ones.
- By treating concrete tasks as a fundamental element, solutions and user interfaces can be simplified and targeted for specific roles. Task specific workplaces automatically adapt to the concrete situation, creating an easy to use, easy to learn work environment for novices and experts alike.