SSP Group Meeting
Wednesday, October 2nd, 11am-12pm
Division of Informatics, 80 South Bridge, Room E20


Knowledge Management using Business Process Modelling and Workflow Techniques

Jessica Chen-Burger

Knowledge Management often deploys Enterprise Modelling (EM) techniques to help conceptualisation of the application domain. The fine work of EM, unfortunately, often only stays at an  analytical level and does not provide a direction input to the actual business operations that is largely due to the informality of EM methods.

This talk summaries and concludes Hsiang-Ling's MSc thesis work that investigates one EM method, business process modelling, and how such method may be formalised and provides a more direct contribution to the business process deployment. During her MSc project, the semantics of FBPML (Fundamental Business Process Modelling Language) has been investigated and formal reasoning and analysis opportunities exploited.

FBPML is a merging and adaptation of two recognised process modelling languages: PSL and IDEF3. PSL provides formal semantics for commonly shared process modelling concepts as well as theories such as situation calculus. As it was designed to be an interchange language between different process languages, it covers the core concepts among PMs and does not provide visual notations or development methods.

IDEF3 was originated from manufacturing community and is one of the richest methods available in the process modelling community. It provides visual notations and a fairly rich modelling method. Nevertheless, its semantic is informal and its models may be open to interpretation.

It is therefore useful to combine the two different methods, i.e. to gain advantages from the rich method from IDEF3 and provide it with a formal semantics and necessary theories, so that reasoning mechanism and formal analysis may be carried out on those models. FBPML is such a modelling language.

Hsiang-Ling extracts the formal semantics from FBPML and formalised them in logical expressions. These logical expressions provide a basis for implementing a workflow engine. The formal semantics is based on PSL and adapted for IDEF3 and FBPML. This semantics, however, is not sufficient for implementing a workflow engine, as it does not contain execution logics for the model. The lack of this information has two implications: (1) a workflow engine may be implemented in different ways, i.e. the same process model may behave differently in two different systems that not all behaviours are desirable and errors may be introduced, (2) it is not possible to predict or analysis the complexity of the dynamic behaviours of a process model, as its execution is unknown. FBPML has execution logics that was not presented in both PSL and IDEF3.

A formal representation, therefore, has been devised that includes a description of the execution logic of FBPML. This formal
representation forms the basis for building a workflow system. It also instructs how the workflow system behaves. The system
was later on tested using AKT business process models.

A three layered formal predictive analysis framework was also constructed to provide advanced analysis of a business process model without the actual implementation of a workflow system. This allows the user to confirm and refine the initial process
design within minimum overhead.

The use of Business process modelling and Workflow Systems are versatile and their behaviours are not well-understood, esp. when they describe and carry out operations within a distributed environment. Related issues are the dynamic (controlled or not controlled) flow of operations, methods for exchanging information, negotiation between parties and processes, roles of parties involved and their relationships through processes, error detection and recovery (both at design and run time), resource management and scheduling, and goal-oriented optimisation problems.