On Flexibility in Business Process Management Systems

On Flexibility in Business Process Management Systems

Amit V. Deokar (Dakota State University, USA) and Nazim Taskin (Dakota State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0249-6.ch010


Business Process Management Systems (BPMS) provide the necessary infrastructure for managing business processes, in both intra-organizational and inter-organizational contexts. These process support systems also provide the technical support for managing changes in business processes, either at design time or run-time. Consequently, it is necessary for a BPMS to be flexible and amenable to changes at various levels. This chapter highlights key dimensions along which process support systems such as BPMS can be made more flexible, provides an overview of the existing body of knowledge on these dimensions, and motivates the future work in this direction. The intention is to provide the reader a strong starting point for either conducting a more detailed literature study or pursuing further research along any of these dimensions.
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Characterizing Flexibility In Bpms

The most widely accepted classification, one that has been used by the trade press and endorsed by the WfMC, divides workflow in four categories: production, administrative, ad-hoc, and collaborative (Georgakopoulos, Hornick, & Sheth, 1995). As shown in Figure 1, these business processes are characterized from the perspective of repeatability and business value. Production business processes are most repeatable with high business value, while ad-hoc business processes are at the other end of the spectrum.

Figure 1.

Types of workflows (adopted from Stohr & Zhao, 2001)

Soffer (2005) discusses two forms of flexibility in business processes: short-term and long-term. Short term flexibility relates to the ability to recover from small, short term changes by deviating temporarily from the standard way of working, e.g., exception handling. This is analogous to the notion of system versatility described by Zhao (1998), which refers to the ability of BPMS to accommodate process variations caused by exceptions, possibly resulting from user choice of unplanned options and actions at runtime. Long term flexibility relates to the ability to change the overall business process itself, i.e., the ability to change the standard way of working. A related notion, referred to as system adaptability, is discussed by Zhao (1998). It refers to the capability of the BPMS to cope up with major changes in the business processes, with minimal or no effect on on-going process instances. Note that the emphasis is on managing transitions to modified business processes, i.e., supporting dynamic evolution of process definitions during execution. Both of these forms of flexibility are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.

Flexibility from a process change perspective

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