Enterprise ontology was a topic of academic research in the 90s, e.g. in Canada, Holland, and Scotland. This early work was informed by industrial practice in enterprise modeling, and emphasized industrial issues like product design, requirements, organization, manufacturing, transportation, quality, inventory etc. The added value of an ontological approach compared to conventional enterprise modeling was however never clear to industrial practitioners, and ontology remained an academic exercise, which was not picked up by leading tool vendors.

Recently, the fad of the “semantic web” has brought forward an even more theoretical approach to enterprise ontology. Its proponents seem unaware of the earlier work. As before, interoperability is the core concern that ontologies are addressing, e.g. in the IDEAS framework. However, it seems that the focus has moved from interoperability of enterprises to exchange of enterprise models. This post questions if such an approach is viable. In the absence of any evidence that demonstrates that ontologies work in practice, I apologize for the theoretical nature of this post. Read the rest of this entry »

Simplifying BPMN 2.0

March 23, 2010

Though BPMN has emerged as a dominant business process modeling standard, the jury is still out on whether it is suitable for business people. Even for IT people, some argue that the number of constructs you need to understand in order to build a process model is too large. Future standards for adaptive case management will require even greater end user participation in process modeling.  

Consequently, the requirements for a simple, robust, extensible, and flexible modeling framework are growing. Over the years, we have developed a few principles for making modeling languages simpler to use. These principles represent a move away from the prejudice that everything should be defined as classes, which so dominates OO and MDA.  

The results of applying these principles to BPMN 2.0 could be a reduction of its size by up to 50%. The resulting framework would also handle typical evolution scenarios better, by removing the need for a lot of type change of individual elements. Finally, it would better support complementary visualizations of the process, like the 12 different process views we described earlier.

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I was recently invited to the second  Practice of Enterprise Modeling (PoEM) conference, in Stockholm, 18-19 November. This post introduces the topics that I will talk about there. The objective is to communicate some of our lessons from 15-20 years of enterprise modeling and enterprise architecture development, to highlight advances made, important ideas that were largely forgotten, and to point out directions for future practice development. Some of the lessons presented below are obvious to enterprise modeling practitioners. They are included here because outsiders coming into the field sometimes get them wrong. Other lessons may be more controversial, and they may not be applicable in every situation.

The proceedings of the conference are available from Springer Lecture Notes in Business Information Processing. The presentation is available here (pptx).  Read the rest of this entry »

In the 1990s most leading companies were very much concerned about knowledge management, recognizing that knowledge and competence are the driving forces of business, design and innovation. Industrial managers were also concerned about brain drain, loss of practical competence when skilled workers with multiple job experiences retired or left to join competitors.

This post is an attempt to revitalize industrial interest in KM by introducing new concepts and discoveries, such as knowledge architectures and families, and by giving good answers to industry questions like:

  1. What is enterprise knowledge?
  2. What inherent properties does enterprise knowledge exhibit, and what capabilities does it provide?
  3. How is enterprise knowledge best expressed, shared and managed by industrial users?
  4. How is work-centric knowledge best encoded to meet industrial needs?

The questions are answered based on scientific discoveries and experiences from industrial pilots. Read the rest of this entry »

Properties define the data values that are important in a domain. In product design, properties and parameters are used for quantifying requirements, for setting agreed upon targets, and for assessing the qualities of different solutions. Product data management (PDM) therefore places properties at the centre of attention, and properties are perhaps the most important kind of elements in PDM standards, cf. independent property definition in STEP, and e.g. the DIN product property dictionary. Design methodology processes are defined according to what kind of properties are defined, related, mapped, balanced, estimated, calculated etc. in each step. Generally, required and target properties are defined long before the objects that will eventually possess them are properly identified or classified.

Yet in IT, properties and attributes are normally treated as second class citizens compared to objects. In database schema, they define the columns of entities, while in object oriented design, they are just subordinate features of object classes. OWL (Web Ontology Language) is a notable exception. It supports property modeling independent of object classes. In the reflective variant OWL Full users may remove the differences between objects and properties, to model features of and relationships between properties. This variant is however seldom applied, because it cannot guarantee sound formal reasoning for automatic execution. In information systems research, Jeffrey Parsons has shown how properties determine classification structures, rather than vice versa. These examples, however, are exceptions to the common practice. This is why our modeling principles include the representation of properties as first class citizens. Read the rest of this entry »