Business Process Flexibility
The quest for flexibility can be regarded as the main driving force behind
business process management, both at an organizational level, where strategic
business processes are investigated, and at an operational level, where
human interaction workflows and system workflows are important concepts
for realizing business processes.
According to Wikipedia, flexibility refers to the “ability to easily bend an
object or the ability to adapt to different circumstances.”
In todays dynamic market environments, “different circumstances” are
induced by changes in the market environment of the company. Business processes
are objects that need to adapt easily to changes. Since products that
companies provide to the market are generated by business processes, flexible
business processes are an important asset for coping with market changes in
an effective manner.
Different aspects have to be taken into account when considering flexibility.
First of all, flexibility is provided by explicit representation of business
processes, because adaptations of explicit, graphically specified business processes
is much easier than adaptation of written organizational procedures or
business policies buried in software code.
Enactment platforms, such as workflow management systems, provide
powerful mechanisms for enacting business processes in diverse technical and
organizational environments. One area specific to human interaction workflows
is the assignment of knowledge workers to process activities.
In typical workflow environments, such as system workflows and human
interaction workflows, information systems are required for enacting workflow
activities. The interfaces to these systems might be hardcoded in the adapters
of the workflow management system. In dynamic software landscapes, where
functionality is provided through standardized interfaces, the ability to change
the binding of particular software to workflow activities is another source of
Explicit Process Representations
Business process management systems are created to narrow the gap between business goals and their realization by means of information technology. The
main way to provide this flexibility is based on explicit representations of
business processes at different levels. While organizational business processes
have a coarse-grained structure and are typically specified textually by forms,
operational business processes consist of process activities, and execution constraints
that relate them.
Explicit process representations provide flexibility, since changes to the
current process can be discussed and agreed upon by the different stakeholders
involved in the design of the business process. In this context, flexibility is achieved by changes at the business process model level that are immediately
translated to actual business process instances.
This process features a sequence of activities, where the first activity
to store the order is preceded by a start event. After the order is stored,
the inventory is checked. This version of the business process rules that the
shipment is prepared only after the invoice is sent and the funds are received.
Finally, the goods are shipped and the process terminates.
Due to the somewhat cautious policy realized by the business process—
prepare shipment only after receiving the funds—business process instances
based on this process model might suffer from long processing times, resulting
in insufficient customer satisfaction.
In order to solve this problem, the process owner starts a review of this
business process by inviting process participants and process consultants to
a joint workshop. The business process model is used as a communication
platform for these stakeholders at this workshop.
Discussing the problem of the process instances, the stakeholders find out
that concurrency can be exploited within the process. If activities can be
executed concurrently, their order of execution is irrelevant. For instance, the
preparation of the invoice can be started before the shipment is handled. The
new and improved version of the business process is shown in Figure 3.33.
Although in this example the deficits of the business process are obvious,
the improvement of the process by introducing concurrency shows quite well
how an explicit process model can foster response to change.
The translation of the business process model to the actual operational
environment can be realized in different ways. If the business process is realized
by a human interaction workflow, then the modified business process
model needs to be deployed in the workflow management system. Deployment
typically includes enrichment of the business process model with information
to make the process executable.
In particular, there needs to be a translation from the graphical model to
an executable format that is specified in a particular workflow language or—
in case the system workflow is realized in a service-oriented environment in a service composition language. In any of these realizations, the explicit
representation of business process models provides the flexibility to change
the process and to finally enact the modified process.
New process instances would then follow the new, improved business
process model. If, on the other hand, business processes are enacted without
any system support, then the business process model is translated manually
to a consistent set of procedures and policies that the knowledge workers need
The flexibility resulting from the explicit modelling of business processes
is fundamental to business process management applications.