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.