Virtual Environment Visualisation of Executable Business Process Models

Virtual Environment Visualisation of Executable Business Process Models

Ross Brown (Queensland University of Technology, Australia) and Rune Rasmussen (Queensland University of Technology, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-631-5.ch004
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Business Process Modelling is a fast growing field in business and information technology, which uses visual grammars to model and execute processes within an organisation. However, many analysts present such models in a 2D static and iconic manner that is difficult to understand by many stakeholders. Difficulties in understanding such grammars can impede the improvement of processes within an enterprise due to communication problems. In this chapter, we present a novel framework for intuitively visualising animated business process models in 3D Virtual Environments. We also show that virtual environment visualisations can be performed with present 2D business process modelling technology, thus providing a low barrier to entry for business process practitioners. Two case studies are presented from film production and healthcare domains that illustrate the ease with which these visualisations can be created. This approach can be generalised to other executable workflow systems, for any application domain being modelled.
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Games and related virtual environments have been a fast growing area of the entertainment industry. The classic reference is that games are now approaching the size of Hollywood box office sales (Boyer, 2008). Books are now appearing on its influence on business (Edery & Mollick, 2008), and it is one of the key drivers of present hardware development, especially with hardware manufactures providing solutions for graphics processing, physics simulation and interaction devices like the Nintendo Wiimote. Some of this game technology is now available as general purpose bundled applications on operating systems, including such examples as Aero on Windows, and Time Machine on the Apple Mac.

In addition to this continued growth in the area of games, there are a number of factors that are increasing the influence of Games Technology and 3D Virtual Environments on Business IT systems. Firstly, the average age of gamers is approaching the mid thirties (ESA, 2008). Therefore, a number of people who are in management positions in large enterprises are experienced in using 3D entertainment environments. Secondly, due to demand for more computational power in CPU and Graphical Processing Units (GPUs), average desktop machines and recent laptops are capable of supporting a game or virtual environment. It should be noted that the demonstrations at the end of this chapter were developed at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) on a normal Software Operating Environment, with a standard Intel Dual Core CPU and basic Intel graphics option.

What this means is that business computing is on the verge of being able to ubiquitously utilise Virtual Environment technology due to:

  • 1.

    A broad range of workers being regularly exposed to 3D Virtual Environment software via games and related technologies.

  • 2.

    Standard desktop computing power now being strong enough to potentially roll out a Virtual Environment solution across an entire enterprise.

In addition to this technological change emerging into business software spaces, we can also draw upon the communication capabilities of such 3D virtual spaces. 3D visualisation of data is a mainstream concept in many scientific and business fields (Hansen & Johnson, 2005). The inclusion of the third dimension of depth to 2D representations opens up many possibilities with regards to embedding high dimensional data into interactive visualisations. Once animation is included, the possibilities of encoding further information into these extra dimensions creates arrangements that are potentially superior for spatially organised tasks (Tavanti & Lind, 2001). While this superior efficacy is still an ongoing debate (Cockburn & McKenzie, 2004), the novelty and physical attractiveness of such 3D environments continues to offer the possibility of compelling new environments for business system users.

Virtual Environments take this 3D visualisation concept further to generate a sense of presence within a computerised synthetic world, where the ego centre of the individual using the environment is placed within the representation as what is known as an Avatar (Lessig, 2000). The placement “In World” of the user facilitates the ability to communicate with the avatar of another person who is in the environment, and to interact in a collaborative, networked manner with data and process representations.

We believe such visual simulation environments can have a great impact in the application area of Business Process Modelling. Much research has been carried out into the usage of such environments for business via co-creation of content amongst other approaches (Bonsu & Darmody, 2008), but this has not been supported by the development of facilitating technology to ease the development burden for businesses seeking to use such virtual worlds. We believe that a key problem in the usage of such environments for business purposes, especially in the areas of business process management, is the absence of appropriate tools to facilitate easy modelling of business processes for consumption by stakeholders within an enterprise.

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