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Business Process Technology: A Unified View on Business Processes, Workflows and Enterprise Applications

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In the last decade there has been an explosion of interest in the modeling and automation of business processes, and competence in this area is seen as increasingly critical to business competitiveness and stability. However, this has lead to a parallel explosion in solution approaches and technologies leading to a state-of-the-art that is highly disjointed and confused. In particular, there is a mismatch between business process modeling technologies on the one hand, which focus on allowing domain experts to describe business processes in a graphical, easy-to-use way, and workflow engines on the other hand which focus on automating the enactment of business processes in association with human users. Not only is there little consensus on concepts and terminology, there is also little connection between commercial solutions and established computer science theory. This is where Dirk Draheim’s book makes its contribution. First, it clarifies the conceptual differences and similarities between the many different business process technologies available today and lays the foundation for a unified understanding of the field. Second, it explores the relationship between these technologies and traditional principles of computer science such as structured programming. And third, it lays out a vision for the future of business process technology and its optimal use in business process improvement and enterprise systems development.

Most books on business process technology either take a very broad but high-level view of the challenges and solutions in this area or provide a very detailed but narrow view of a specific issue or technology. It is rare to find a book that manages to do both. Dirk Draheim combines his experience with the wide-range of practical technologies currently used to automate business processes with his deep understanding of computing science formalisms to show how the former can be given a stronger theoretical foundation. Finally the best part of the book is saved until the end. In the final chapter Dirk Draheim proposes “TypedWorkflow Charts” as a new formalism for modeling and automating business processes. This represents a genuinely innovative step forward which is likely to have a big impact on the way business processes are specified and automated in the future.

Currently, we see a variety of tools and techniques for specifying and implementing business processes. The problem is that there are still gaps and tensions between the different disciplines needed to improve business process execution and improvement in enterprises. Business process modeling, workflow execution and application programming are examples of disciplines that are hosted by different communities and that emerged separately from each other. In particular, concepts have not yet been fully elaborated at the system analysis level. Therefore, practitioners are faced again and again with similar questions in concrete business process projects: Which decomposition mechanism to use? How to find the correct granularity for business process activities? Which implementing technology is the optimal one in a given situation? This work offers an approach to the systematization of the field. The methodology used is explicitly not a comparative analysis of existing tools and techniques – although a review of existing tools is an essential basis for the considerations in the book. Rather, the book tries to provide a landscape of rationales and concepts in business processes with a discussion of alternatives.

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