ACM Workshop at BPM2012: Supporting Collaborative Work

We heard two more papers in the morning, the first presented by Nicolas Mundbrod of Ulm University on system support for collaborative knowledge work (paper co-authored by Jens Kolb and Manfred Reichert). This is the first of the papers today that is starting to show some of the crossover with social software: they studied the characteristics of collaborative knowledge work – uncertainty, goal orientation, emergence of work, and growing knowledge base – in order to determine what functionality is required to support it. From this, they defined nine dimensions by which to measure collaborative knowledge work: knowledge action types (e.g., acquisition, application, dissemination), methodology (e.g., explicit, tacit), interdisciplinarity (range from domain-specific to interdisciplinary), organizational frame (e.g., project, case, spontaneous), spatial proximity (range from direct to remote), involved knowledge workers (range from two to countless), temporary constraints (e.g., fixed, relative), information interdependency (range from no focus to main focus on interdependencies), and number of repetitions (range from unique to frequent). Based on the dimensions and characteristic, they developed a collaborative knowledge work lifecycle based on the BPM lifecycle and knowledge work lifecycle: orientation leading into template design, collaboration runtime, and records evaluation. Records evaluation is not just after-the-fact analysis of cases, but acts as an information source during the collaborative runtime. They feel that there are a number of tools that target specific aspects of the collaborative lifecycle, but that more research is required on systems to support this type of knowledge work, especially for the cross over between knowledge work and more structured workflow. There were some interesting discussions following, including about other related research such as modifying the knowledge work environment (including which steps are required) based on the experience of the individual worker so that novice workers can be guided without annoying experienced workers.

Staying with the theme of systems for supporting work, Irina Rychkova of University Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne presented on automated support for case management processes with declarative configurable specifications. She maintains that process models are important for a shared understanding of work, but that a traditional BPMS cannot properly manage case management processes because of the unpredictability, variability and emergent nature of process instances. In her research, she attempted to model a flexible process (mortgage application) with BPMN, but found a number of challenges: the tradeoffs between flexibility and complexity when creating the model, especially when dealing with optional and required information; and runtime adaptability, requiring a lot of human expertise and decision-making and reducing reusability. Instead, she proposes configuration mechanisms to allow processes to be configured (data objects and rules) during runtime, which allows for a more adaptable process as well as collecting information to improve models in the future. She maintains that the problem with BPMN is not the language itself, but about modeling style: for case management, instead of using an imperative style that defines tasks in a specific order, we need to use a declarative style where tasks can be defined without explicit ordering, but with rules that allow tasks to be dynamically enabled and disabled based on conditions. BPMN works well for an imperative style of process models, but some new notation – or extension to BPMN – is required to represent configurable data objects, optional data objects, complex/composite structure of data objects, and conditionally obligatory/optional/alternative data objects based on rules. Similarly, there is a need to model the rules that drive these configurations during runtime. There is quite a bit of other research being done on declarative/goal-based process models, and some number of products emerging in this area. There are also a lot of differing opinions on whether BPMN is suitable for modeling case management processes. It’s not clear that BPMN will emerge as the standard for this sort of modeling, but it’s worth considering if it can be extended to suit because of its already widespread (albeit shallow) adoption.

3 thoughts on “ACM Workshop at BPM2012: Supporting Collaborative Work”

  1. Mundbrod, Kolb, Reichert search for something that already exists. I see their approach as too theoretical. The reality of enhancing BPMN with data objects, rules, and linkage free tasks that are aligned to goals does not fit into their abstract concepts of collaboration. The crossover is really easy.

    Irina Rychkova is describing exactly the functional structure that I defined for ACM in 2009. It is just not research or theory but a product. It is what we implemented in the Papyrus Platform.

    Lars Taxen describes correctly the multi-dimensionality of processes that I have been writing about for years.

    Good to hear that the academic theory is finally following the real world implementations. Yes, the grand unification of ACM and BPM is actually what I have been describing for ACM since ever.

    Regards, Max

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