ACM Workshop at BPM2012: ACM in Practice

The first part of the afternoon at the ACM workshop at BPM 2012 moved away from theory and research, and into actual implementations of ACM plus the emerging CMMN standard.

Helle Frisak Sem of Computas presented a paper that she co-authored with her colleagues Steinar Carlsen and Gunnar John Coll, describing an ACM system that is in production at the Norwegian Food Safety Authorty (NFSA) for food safety inspections, information and investigations. This implementation was the recipient of a 2012 ACM award. At its core, the control activity module of the system has the concept of a case that is a rich folder of information about a person or business. The case manager performs tasks (such as schedule and document food inspections) in the context of a case. Each task type has a complete task template that contains all of the possible steps relevant to this task type; at runtime, the user sees a derived list of steps based on conditions in order to complete the task (similar to Ilia Bider’s respondent systems theory), which includes concepts of step dependencies and optional versus mandatory steps. Steps may appear and disappear based on changing conditions, and the user can complete the steps in any order unless there are specific dependencies. Each step, as completed, contributes to the case folder so that a complete record of every task exists. In addition to regular inspections, the system has an emergency response module for managing incidents such as livestock disease outbreak: unlike the more structured inspection tasks, this is used more for logging the incidents, proposing actions and logging decisions, as well as logging media requests and responses.

The control activity module is much more structured and pre-defined, and is hence domain-specific; the emergency control module is domain independent, since it does not contain much, if any, specific domain knowledge. A couple of questions emerged: first, whether domain-neutral systems are really ACM systems, or whether domain specificity is one of the characteristics of ACM. Secondly, the degree of adaptability that is required to be considered ACM, given a spectrum from structured to unstructured: process-driven server integration, human process management, production case management, adaptive case management. As you can imagine, I really like this spectrum because it’s very close to being a relabelling of the “spectrum” diagram that I created last year in which I stated that it’s not about BPM versus ACM, rather a spectrum of process functionality – it’s much more productive in the real world to think about the majority of the processes that fit somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, not at either extreme.

The next paper was Rüdiger Pryss of Ulm University describing a mobile task management system for medical ward rounds (i.e., doctors with iPads). Conveniently, the university also has a hospital, and they started out looking at ways to integrate workflow into ward rounds, but found that it didn’t work with the way that doctors worked when they were doing rounds, which traditionally uses pen and paper to create a to-do list as they walk around and see patients. Moving to an iPad-based system for managing their tasks on the rounds required the doctors to change their methods, although a lot of work on user experience was done in order to replicate their preferred way of working while maintaining input speed through templates and voice input. It was also able to add significant value by integrating patient information as well as predefined workflows for specific tasks to be performed by others, such as xrays. Interestingly, although the technical aspects of task management improved, the patient communication degraded since the doctors were documenting on the iPad while they were with the patient instead of waiting until after seeing the patient to document on paper, as they did previously; it was overall less time but the experience needs to be reworked, possibly with two doctors using linked iPads to interview and document simultaneously.

Last up in this section was a paper authored by Mike Marin, Richard Hull and Roman Vaculin of IBM, presented by one of their colleagues from the Haifa research lab, on the emerging OMG standard for case management  modeling and notation (CMMN). Unfortunately, OMG does not release any information about proposed or in-progress standards, only published ones, so many of us have never seen this before. At the heart of CMMN is a case folder object, based on CMIS, which includes folders, documents and properties for both. The top-level behavioral model includes tasks (where work is performed, both manual and automated), stages (hierarchical clustering of work) and milestones (business-related operational objectives); progression through stages is controlled by worker requests and by sentries (rules), and dependencies can be indicated although there is not strictly a flow model. Stages in case instances can have scope lists, which indicate discretionary tasks. OMG manages the BPMN standard, and there is definitely a lot of BPMN-ness about CMMN. I think that a key question will be whether the two standards can be merged into a single standard.

2 thoughts on “ACM Workshop at BPM2012: ACM in Practice”

  1. That’s not far off in many ways, although I think that so many of our processes are somewhere in between the purely unstructured task management at that end and structured BPM, driving the need to cover both capabilities in a single platform.

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