Tuesday, 16 April 2013 03:03


In today's dynamic business world the success of an enterprise increasingly depends on its ability to react to changes in its environment in a quick and flexible way. Examples of such changes include regulatory adaptations (e.g., the introduction of Sarbanes-Oxley or Basel II), market evolution, altered customer behavior, process improvement, and strategic shifts. Companies have heretofore identified business agility as a competitive advantage to address business trends like increasing product and service variability or faster time-to-market, and to ensure business IT alignment. In particular, improving the efficiency and quality of their business processes and optimizing their interactions with partners and customers have become crucial success factors for companies.

In this context, a business process can be defined as a set of one or more connected activities which collectively realize a particular business goal. Usually, a business process is linked to an organizational structure defining functional roles and organizational relationships. Further, a business process may involve one department, but may also cross departmental borders or even involve different organizations. Examples of business processes include insurance claim processing, order handling, personnel recruitment, product engineering, and patient treatment.

When using contemporary enterprise information systems, however, business agility is often hindered by a lack of flexibility. Often, companies choose to abandon new business initiatives rather than attempting to make modifications to their enterprise information systems. In order to improve their business processes and to manage them in a flexible manner, enterprises are increasingly interested in aligning their information systems in a process-centered way offering the right business functions to the right users at the right point in time along with the needed information and application services.

Along this trend, a new generation of information systems - so-called Process-aware Information Systems (PAISs) - has emerged, which target at overcoming this inflexibility. Examples of PAISs include workflow management systems, case handling tools and service orchestration engines. As opposed to data- or function-centered information systems, a PAIS separates process logic from application code and thus provides an additional architectural layer. In particular, most PAISs describe process logic explicitly in terms of a process model providing the schema for process execution. Usually, the core of the process layer is built by a process management system, which provides generic services for process modeling, process execution, process monitoring, and user interaction (e.g., work list management).

Furthermore, PAISs foster the splitting of monolithic applications into smaller components and services, which can then be orchestrated by the PAIS. Maintainability and traceability are significantly enhanced by this extended architecture. Changes to one layer often can be performed without affecting the other layers. For example, modifying the application service which implements a particular process step (i.e., activity) does usually not imply any change of the process layer as long as interfaces remain stable. In addition, changing the execution order of activities or adding new activities to the process model can, to a large degree, be accomplished without touching the implementation of any application service.

Though separating process logic and application code makes PAISs more flexible in comparison to traditional information systems, this is not sufficient to meet today's need for greater system flexibility. The major reason for this is that most existing PAISs require a complete specification (i.e., process model) of a business process in advance, which is then used as the schema for process execution. However, dynamic processes demand a more agile approach recognizing the fact that in dynamic environments process models quickly become outdated and hence require closer interweaving of modeling and execution. PAISs not only need to be able to deal with exceptions, change the execution of single business cases on the fly, efficiently deal with uncertainty, and cope with variability, but must also support the evolution of business processes over time.

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