• The MicroGuide to Process and Decision Modeling in BPMN/DMN: Building More Effective Processes by Integrating Process Modeling with Decision Modeling
    The MicroGuide to Process and Decision Modeling in BPMN/DMN: Building More Effective Processes by Integrating Process Modeling with Decision Modeling

Process, Rules & Events: Critical Business Modeling Methods

Business process modeling, decisions, and business events describe the business, not the technical details. These are evolving, strategic management methods that meet today’s challenges. They work together to make it simple for an organization to update underlying rules or processes activities without complicated redeployments of production systems.


Figure for business rule pattern 3, the sequence or path of the process is controlled by the decision graph.

Over the last 5 years, BPM/BR represented a change in the language and symbols that we use to describe business models systems—these methods have become more business-centered and less tied to the technical details of systems. In the past, the IT industry has moved first from information engineering (IE), to object-oriented software engineering (OOSE), to use case analysis. Along the way, commercial off-the-shelf ERP software such as SAP and Oracle Financials became an important part of commonly used technology. The latest methods changed the focus from mathematical theories of data and functions into graphical notations of what the business does. For instance, IE uses an entity relationship diagram (ERD). The ERD depicts relational calculus formulas. A business process diagram, in BPMN, looks and acts like a white board, and business rules have similar graphical descriptions such as decision graphs and decision tables for the rules.

With older methods, data modeling and use case analysis created an immediately outdated technical snapshot of how the organization does business. Businesses always need to change their events, processes and rules to remain competitive. Data modeling and use case analysis do not easily help with these changes in applications. So, in some ways, software based on the metaphors of Process, Event and Decisions is the next step in modern software. Instead of writing programs in Java or C#, these organizations model what the business does in words and diagrams. To update the process or rule, you update the diagrams.


Part Two Use Cases for the Internet of Things: Definitions 

In the things world, there are patterns of events, decisions and process responses.  Simplistically, there are 3 classes of ‘things’:

  • Appliances, including machinery such as electric vehicle charging stations
  • Energy Sources and Sinks, such as solar photovoltaic 
  • Sensors

These things respond to commands and generally act as a participant on a local basis, such as in a DC Microgrid and on a more global basis as in the smart grid Reg.-on or Reg.-off and spin reserve commands. The objective of this modeling, if not the internet of things, is to achieve combinatorial interoperability. I will save the definition of this for the end.

(Business) Event:  In information technology, a business event is an event that is meaningful for conducting commercial, industrial, and governmental or trade activities. In the context of the use case, the events we want to detail are those that start, end or modify the thing in our use case. In other words, what happened to stimulate your use case? Sensors and groups of sensors could affect or signal local and global processes.

Business Event Factors:

  • Event Description: Events should be described by what takes place and where. For instance a cloud passing over a solar panel might be an event that affects solar technology. A brownout might signal the start of a smart grid scenario.
  • Detection: How can we tell that the event has occurred? What sensors, user request  and information provide this? Normally this is a decision or a group of business rules.
  • Control: Does the event stop, start or interrupt the process? What process is affected by the event?
  • Process Controlled: What product-related functionality or processes are controlled by this event?
    Related or Connected Process:  Our ‘things’ use case should start with an appliance’s functions or process, as it responds to events (or sensors). In IT a process is an event-controlled flow of coordinated activities that accomplishes a goal. What are the core processes that accomplish the use case for the ‘thing’? In technology, there may be many sub-processes needed to complete the core business process.

Process Factors:

  • Appliance, Business Model or Business Area: Processes support a product’s business model. A process accomplishes a goal in one or more business areas. What capability or features of the system are utilized in the use case?
  • Activities: What are activities that comprise the process? For things, appliances or energy sources, what components within the product will carry out the directives of the use case?  Only components or the types of components affected by use case analysis should be gathered. Since this is a high-level use case, there should be relatively few.
  • Participants: Who participated in the activities in part of the process (sub-process)? This can include products such as solar panels and boilers. It can also include sensors.

Business Process Technical Factors
Process Data: What are the data attributes within the message flow process? What documents and artifacts should be included?

  • Flow Control: What are the decision points of the process?
  • Related systems. What systems must provide data to the system?

Decisions and Business Rules:  A decision is a judgment about a business or operational concept. There are two major decisions in most use cases: How is the event recognized? Next, for the end-user or other stakeholder, how should the appliance, energy source or local process decide  to respond to the events?
Decisions can be controlled by users as in an automated sensor control. A business rules is a constraint or policy that guides the behavior of the business. Business rules mediate the information in the process flows.
Decision Factors:

  • Decision: What are the decisions that guide the use case? The decision is a lead-in for the formal statement of the rule.
  • Business Terms: What are the terms or vocabulary of the business rules? (In this study, business terms are left for Business Rules Approach problems)
  • Stakeholder: Who are the stewards for the business rules? Who controls the policy, constraint or guideline?
  • Control: What is the control motivation for this business rule? What is the consequence for the reversal?
  • Measure: How do we measure the outcome of the rule, both (if needed)?

Decision Technical Factors:

  • Formal Rule: the decision or rule statement in an If- Then-Else form.
  • Classify: the type, the division, the sort. A concise business rule will start (or end) by filtering what it is deciding upon.
  • Calculate: compute formulas, look up data and statistics, and transform and assign values. The rule transforms input values into useful data.
  • Compare: the comparison to the redline. The redline is a key value that must be reached, or not exceeded, or within a specified range.
  • Control: what is true or valid, correct or mistaken, and the data and messages that go with them. Control can include a transformation of data.

Combinatorial Interoperability

Interoperability is the capability of diverse systems and organizations to work together (inter-operate). The term is often used in a technical systems engineering sense, or alternatively in a broad sense, taking into account social, political, and organizational factors that impact system to system performance.

In the ‘things’ world, interoperable appliances, systems and energy sources can recognize each other and cooperate to meet the needs of the owner. For instance a temperature sensor on one device might control another. The network should sense when the sensor is available and the other devices should interoperate with these.

Certainly, the Event, Process, Decision metaphors apply to developing use cases for the internet of things. 


Use Cases for the Internet of Things

A use case is a description of steps or actions between users, (participants, products) and core software systems which leads the user towards something useful.  In our practice of business process modeling, particularly at Bosch, I have been encountering many ‘Internet of things’ use cases. These ‘things’ or products are process participants, as opposed to simple data feeds or event sources. They are responsible for activities. They send and respond to signals.

Use Cases for the Internet of Things

In the new world of process modeling for the “things world”, product features respond (process) to their environment (events) according to the needs and desires of their owners (decisions and rules). In addition, process activities are continuously updated and communicate in a globally connected environment. This is the nature of the internet of things or the ‘things world’. Some, aspects of the process, events and decisions will be controlled by the end-user. Other aspects are controlled by the things, outside agents, products or by others, such as weather or an electrical utility (smart grids).
The goal of BPMN and other visual environments, such as Visual Rules is to empower the stake-holders, such as product experts, to control their area of concern, without writing computer code. End-users can configure the actions in the use case, according to their needs.  This is referred to as the ‘user creating the application’. In the ‘things world’, a wide range of products that will interact in unanticipated ways. Cameras, household appliances, security sensors and many other things will interact. The end user will probably not use BPMN for this; however, they will want to change the sequence of tasks and the nature of responses to events.

BPMN in the Things World

The visual approach, including BPMN, is a common way to model process and rules, and now even events.  What can be difficult to relate is how to build a use case that matches ‘things’ requirements with a list of objectives for events, processes and decisions. What is needed is a context for arranging the vision into a form that can be incorporated into products.
The outcome should be to define services that support product features, events and decisions that carry out the use case objectives. This is the beginning of an iterative process, a starting point for building a core set of services that support a more integrated portfolio of capabilities.
There are many native benefits to the combined Process/Event/Rules approach that enhance competitiveness. The result should be a portfolio of agile products and process features that increase agile responses to customer requirements, economic or competitive challenges. Over time companies, by adopting the strategy, will build an agile core for managing a collection of common events/process/decisions and information structures that support the objectives of the business. This is the clearest path to the ‘internet’ of things.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the ‘things world’ is not just sensors, appliances and cameras connected to the internet. This connectivity will spawn new business models and new opportunities.  To wit, there are underpinnings, including vocabulary, product/services, organizations, and personnel and training data structures that are critical to every process, and therefore every ‘internet of things’ initiative.

Tom Debevoise


Process Modeling in BPMN 2.0, Rick Geneva comments

On the topic of our new edition of the Microguide to Process Modeling in BPMN 2.0. Rick Geneva posted some comments here:


-Tom Debevoise


The Internet of Goods and Services: Emergent Logic in the Development of the Digital Ecology


Figure 1, the Four Quadrants of Economic Development from a Digital Eco perspective

Since the late industrial age, computerization of our economy has played a key role in the development of our society. The development is not limited to business models; it has developed individuals and groups. The latter is only recently becomes apparent from the important of the rise of the models of social networking. In addition, the ‘internet of things’ has created new business models such as Telemedicine and Smart Grids. So, the impact is not only seen at the corporate level, it has also seen in specific individual behaviors within the home, corporate and other group behaviors.

Figure one presents an approximate model of this development based (loosely) on Ken Wilber’s four-quadrant integral development model. This model is useful to understand and predict the characteristics of the next movements in technology, corporate behavior and the actors that will participate. More specifically, the diagram depicts how software technology has become an exogenous expression of group and individual behavior. It has been used successfully to predict and model movements in a number of other areas, especially sociology.

Figure one is centered on the corporation specifically, and the economy more generally. The four quadrants are categorized as it and ‘its’ (ecology or eco) on the right and I and we (ego) on the left. Roughly speaking, the left corresponds to an explanation of "what it is" and a right corresponds to an explanation of "what it means". Development of the economic entities including corporations, governments, and other broader groups radiates outward in time from the center. Figure 1 is centered in the late industrial age, roughly a decade after World War 2. The center of the diagram corresponds to the earliest mainframe that supported basic record sorting and data processing. The central corporate ecology was based on an industrial model. From that point, development spirals outward.

As the technology progress, corresponding structures and concepts in the economic eco (businesses and government entities) progress outward. For instance, most business historians and economists believe the progress of Wal-Mart to be a phenomenon. Wall-Mart owes a large portion of its success to technology. It is well known that their technology contributed to a unique model for retailing and supply chain management. Yet, as we well know, there are risks to progress. Equally compelling arguments for technologies’ effect on the economy were the broken sub-prime business processes (BPM) that led to the numerous closed Wall-Marts (the Ghost Box effect).

Most broadly, for modern business models, in advanced segments of the world, we have moved from the command and control management (i.e. manager-secretary, supervisor-worker) structures to a more decentered management structure. This also corresponds to the current decentralized management structure of the Global Fortune 100. This is the transnational corporate-state in the lower left. Even within these ‘advanced’ societies there are businesses that operate at the lower levels. For instance, ordinary retail or factory production does have the complex needs of the goal-oriented transitional corporation. Again, these points correspond to characteristics of Wilber’s model for the progression of human development. It would be easy to develop this theory, but for the purposes of this discussion, we should note that companies that operate at the advanced corners of the quadrant are the most competitive and profitable. They draw the brightest employees and executives and have the best business opportunities.

The Evaporating Trade/Professional Divide and Effects on Software

 Examine the upper left quadrant. As technology progresses the line between the trades and professions merge. In the medical profession, nurses use complex instruments and software and increasingly act more like doctors. In engineering, engineers develop their own drawings.

This effect is strongest in business. Employee become more self-sufficient and empowered to create solutions to technical and business problems, with less involvement from IT. This movement started with ‘Groupware’ software and applications such as Access, FoxPro and spreadsheets. As software designers noted this trend, they created powerful applications such as Microsoft’s SharePoint in concert with InfoPath. Another outcome is the success of Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) and the many business process suites that support these.

Yet the wide-spread adoption of BPMN and other “software-through-pictures’” technologies would not be possible without the rapid evolution of the job skills and technical capabilities of the employee. Some analysts call these ‘purple’ people. Yet, this is a reactionary viewpoint based on an outdated model of the roles and capabilities of the business managers and analysts. In many of today’s organizations, the business analyst, manager or subject matter expert design and maintain processes and applications and they do this with skills previously considered technical. These organizations operate in areas where multi-week development cycles would be intolerable. These areas include risk management, fraud detection and complex areas of finance and investment. They make (again, would have been considered) highly technical changes to the applications. This is especially true in the areas of Business Process Management, Decision Analytics, Business Rules and Business Intelligence.

The Characteristics of the Phases

 From the viewpoint of this frame of development, many computer scientists, engineers and innovators have a distorted picture of Digital Eco technology. Proponents of one movement or the next believe that their favored method (Relational Data, Object Orientation, Business Intelligence, etc.) should overcome and replace the other. In fact, as components of technology develop, they become parts of the latter phases—analogous to the rungs of a ladder. For instance, the relational database is still a critical component for nearly every enterprise application. Moreover, the relational database remains mature and little unchanged over the last decade. Batch processing is still utilized in many applications, especially in certain financial markets. This is not to say that the lower rungs remain stagnant, advances are made at the earlier phases of development.

Consider China, where the economy is less advanced that the in the west. Mainframe-oriented, batch processing is a predominant computing approach.

Evolving to new Forms

 Another characteristic of the quadrant model of development is the consolidation of the technology industries. The consolidation is not only driven by efficiencies it is also driven by corporate expectations for increasingly more useful and comprehensive solutions. It is clear that, for the most developed and sophisticated consumers, new form of technology will have these characteristics:

  • Elimination of development cycles (requirements), after a short start-up phase, changes to the processes, events, services and applications areas will be made rapidly in a disciplined and precise manner, mostly by the business side of the operation.
  • Support for increasing levels of technical complexity, applications support will require increasingly fine-grained distinctions.

The combination of these components will evolve to more complex forms that would not have been envisioned. To stay ‘on the quadrants edge’, the companies that market these products must merge and integrate them in seamless ways. Clearly the new forms will emerge from the five metaphors that bind all of the components of the quadrants: Data, Processes, Events and Business Rules. This binding occurs in a holography.

The Evaporating Information/Services/Goods Divide

 As mentioned earlier, technology is merging the line between the trades and professions. In the medical profession, nurses use complex instruments and software and increasingly act more like doctors. Yet, with the Internet of things, telemedicine devices can act like nurses. In the US Veterans Administration, many vets have telemedicine stations in their home. This equipment measures a patient’s weight, blood pressure, blood oxygen and other clinical measures. In addition, it asks questions concerning a patient’s main symptoms as directed by their medical history.

This is an example of the Internet of Goods and Services (IGAS) that is emerging from the ‘things world’.

Other examples include:

  • In next generation electrical services, solid state transformers will provide different types of current including 380V DC bi-directional, 24V direct current, standard 50Hz AC, and Square Wave current.
  • Smart-grid services will provide life-style choices and different tariffs
  • Next generation water services will deliver different grades of water to commercial and industrial areas according to needs. For instance, recycled mineral oil might be used in toilets, untreated water would be provided for irrigation. Finally, various levels of treated water will service industrial processes.

I define the Internet of Goods and Services (IGAS) as a cloud computing and sensor-based network that delivers, literally, goods and services to customers. The IGAS network uses intelligence to control the delivery of goods such as electrical, water, and other goods in an optimal way. In the same way, medical and security services can be delivered to the consumer.

IGAS: The Customer Builds the Application

 Just as in the previous rung of the ladder, the customer, knowledge worker or support team member design and maintain IGAS processes and applications and they do this with skills previously considered technical. Customers will create processes that meet their own energy objectives. They will also design their medical care and transportation system.

- Tom Debevoise