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What is BPM? What is Case Management? Part III

Business Process and Case Management Modeling

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By: Bob Ragsdale

December 6, 2012 | Case Management/BPMOpen Architecture

In this the third installment exploring what business process management (BPM) and case management are, both as a discipline and as a technology, we’re going to take a look at how systems are modeled and the technologies that we employ to do that modeling.  As we embark on this discussion I think it is important to remember that we do not see BPM and Case Management as separate and distinct approaches, rather MicroPact's entellitrak platform treats business process management and case management as a single, continuous spectrum (thus entellitrak supports both UML State Modeling and Business Process Modeling).

Let's Go Back

As I noted in the first installment of this series:

“…we have BPM with repeatable processes, and case management featuring non-repeatable processes. And one would rightly infer that the management approach to case management and the building of case management systems would differ from that of business process management.”

Most people are familiar with the concept of Business Process Modeling whereby one uses a Visio-like process modeler to diagram a process flow. Unfortunately, in many, if not the majority of business scenarios (particularly those that involve knowledge-based decisions, such as background investigations), objects may not follow a consistent, pre-defined path – as a result, a rigid process model can’t easily accommodate these exceptions.  These scenarios tend to be closer to the “case management” end of the scale whereby the core data object (such as a background investigation file/object) move from state to state (such as case initiation, informal review, etc.). In this instance the more appropriate modeler to employ would be a “state modeler”.

Unified Modeling Language (UML) and the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN)

To help give some clarity on the respective differences and benefits of the state and process modeling semantics used in the entellitrak platform, I will turn to a description that our CTO, Mike Cerniglia, drafted for one of our analyst friends recently.

Background

When entellitrak was initially conceived, the goal of the product was to be a highly configurable, agile platform that allowed for applications to be modeled using metadata that could be quickly deployed and executed.  One of the core modeling objects in entellitrak is a Data Object that models the valuable pieces of information in an application.  In entellitrak a Data Object is modeled using traditional Object Oriented (OO) concepts such as properties, data types and relationships to other objects.

To model how a Data Object flows through an application from state to state, UML State and Activity Diagrams semantics were chosen because it was a better fit for the dynamic nature of entellitrak applications and provided a powerful but simple way to go from definition to execution.  Additionally, the use of UML also allowed business analyst and engineers to use the other standard modeling diagrams provided by the UML specification for modeling the various components and requirements of the application.

Combined Modeling Capabilities

Both UML and BPMN provide robust, standard based modeling specifications that are maintained by the OMG. As stated by the OMG, “UML is OMG's most-used specification, and the way the world models not only application structure, behavior, and architecture, but also business process and data structure”.  The BPMN specification on the other hand has a more specific focus on the business process aspect of a system.  The overlap between these two specifications, as well as their individual strengths, allow for combined capabilities for modeling business applications.

In the context of the entellitrak platform, the goal is to provide support for both specifications.  As explained by the OMG, both UML and BPMN have different focuses but are compatible with each other:

“The unified modeling language (UML) takes an object-oriented approach to the modeling of applications, while BPMN takes a process-oriented approach to modeling of systems. Where BPMN has a focus on business processes, the UML has a focus on software design and therefore the two are not competing notations but are different views on systems. The BPMN and the UML are compatible with each other. A business process model does not necessarily have to be implemented as an automated business process in a process execution language. Where this is the case, business processes and participants can be mapped to constructs such as use cases and behavioral models in the UML. “

Within the entellitrak platform many different types of applications are modeled and deployed.  These applications range from very dynamic case management applications, structured business process management applications to traditional data and event driven applications. By supporting both UML and BPMN for modeling, application designers are given more choices and flexibility to view and model the application based upon the business needs.

Choosing the right model for your needs

Selecting the right technology starts with the question "how do I intend to approach this as a discipline?" The system you choose should support your management approach. In our experience most approaches and systems actually fall somewhere in the middle, incorporating best practices from BPM and case management and for that reason, we give system designers the flexibility to employ both UML and BPMN for modeling.

Will you start with the process or with the data? No matter how you approach it, MicroPact can help. Learn more about how entellitrak can enable you to work in a manner that best suits your needs.

Lastly, if you missed them, be sure to read the previous installments of What is Business Process Management? What is Case Management?

About the Author

Bob Ragsdale is Director of Marketing at MicroPact. Bob has over 20 years of experience leading the international marketing and branding efforts of software and technology companies at nearly every stage of development.

 

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