Ebook: Flexible Workflows
Traditional workflow management systems support the fulfillment of business tasks by providing guidance along a predefined workflow model. Due to the shift from mass production to customization, flexibility has become important in recent decades, but the various approaches to workflow flexibility either require extensive knowledge acquisition and modeling, or active intervention during execution. Pursuing flexibility by deviation compensates for these disadvantages by allowing alternative paths of execution at run time without requiring adaptation to the workflow model.
This work, Flexible Workflows: A Constraint- and Case-Based Approach, proposes a novel approach to flexibility by deviation, the aim being to provide support during the execution of a workflow by suggesting items based on predefined strategies or experiential knowledge, even in case of deviations. The concepts combine two familiar methods from the field of AI - constraint satisfaction problem solving, and process-oriented case-based reasoning. The combined model increases the capacity for flexibility. The experimental evaluation of the approach consisted of a simulation involving several types of participant in the domain of deficiency management in construction. The book contains 7 chapters covering foundations; domains and potentials; prerequisites; constraint based workflow engine; case based deviation management; prototype; and evaluation, together with an introduction, a conclusion and 3 appendices.
Demonstrating high utility values and the promise of wide applicability in practice, as well as the potential for an investigation into the transfer of the approach to other domains, the book will be of interest to all those whose work involves workflow management systems.
Traditional workflow management systems support process participants in fulfilling business tasks through guidance along a predefined workflow model. Flexibility has gained a lot of attention in recent decades through a shift from mass production to customization. Various approaches to workflow flexibility exist that either require extensive knowledge acquisition and modelling effort or an active intervention during execution and re-modelling of deviating behaviour. The pursuit of flexibility by deviation is to compensate both of these disadvantages through allowing alternative unforeseen execution paths at run time without demanding the process participant to adapt the workflow model. However, the implementation of this approach has been little researched so far.
This work proposes a novel approach to flexibility by deviation. The approach aims at supporting process participants during the execution of a workflow through suggesting work items based on predefined strategies or experiential knowledge even in case of deviations. The developed concepts combine two renowned methods from the field of artificial intelligence - constraint satisfaction problem solving with process-oriented case-based reasoning. This mainly consists of a constraint-based workflow engine in combination with a case-based deviation management. The declarative representation of workflows through constraints allows for implicit flexibility and a simple possibility to restore consistency in case of deviations. Furthermore, the combined model, integrating procedural with declarative structures through a transformation function, increases the capabilities for flexibility. For an adequate handling of deviations the methodology of case-based reasoning fits perfectly, through its approach that similar problems have similar solutions. Thus, previous made experiences are transferred to currently regarded problems, under the assumption that a similar deviation has been handled successfully in the past.
Necessary foundations from the field of workflow management with a focus on flexibility are presented first. As formal foundation, a constraint-based workflow model was developed that allows for a declarative specification of foremost sequential dependencies of tasks. Procedural and declarative models can be combined in the approach, as a transformation function was specified that converts procedural workflow models to declarative constraints. One main component of the approach is the constraint-based workflow engine that utilizes this declarative model as input for a constraint solving algorithm. This algorithm computes the worklist, which is proposed to the process participant during workflow execution. With predefined deviation handling strategies that determine how the constraint model is modified in order to restore consistency, the support is continuous even in case of deviations.
The second major component of the proposed approach constitutes the case-based deviation management, which aims at improving the support of process participants on the basis of experiential knowledge. For the retrieve phase, a sophisticated similarity measure was developed that integrates specific characteristics of deviating workflows and combines several sequence similarity measures. Two alternative methods for the reuse phase were developed, a null adaptation and a generative adaptation. The null adaptation simply proposes tasks from the most similar workflow as work items, whereas the generative adaptation modifies the constraint-based workflow model based on the most similar workflow in order to re-enable the constraint-based workflow engine to suggest work items.
The experimental evaluation of the approach consisted of a simulation of several types of process participants in the exemplary domain of deficiency management in construction. The results showed high utility values and a promising potential for an investigation of the transfer on other domains and the applicability in practice, which is part of future work. Concluding, the contributions are summarized and research perspectives are pointed out.