Business Process Analytics provides process participants and decision makers with insight about the efficiency and effectiveness of organizational processes.
There are three reasons why we might want to measure different aspects of business processes:
- To evaluate what has happened in the past,
- to understand what is happening currently, or
- to build an understanding of what might happen in the future.
The first area focuses on the ex-post analysis of completed business processes, i.e., on Process Controlling. You can find several papers (and an e-book) on this site that explain this approach in detail. Process Controlling may or may not involve a pre-existing formal representation of the business process in question. If no documented process model exists, or if the scope of the process extends across multiple systems and process domains such a model may be inductively generated through Process Mining. Leading research on this topic is being conducted by Wil van der Aalst’s research group at TU/Eindhoven – make sure to check out their ProM framework. The second area focuses on the real-time monitoring of currently active business processes, i.e., Business Activity Monitoring. The third area uses business process data to forecast the future behavior of the organization through techniques such as scenario planning and simulation and is known as Process Intelligence.
To date, the audit information produced by most Business Process Management systems is formatted in proprietary ways, and for historically good reasons – each system may implement the internal state model of a process instance and an activity instance differently. Most systems offer basic monitoring and reporting functionality out of the box, built on their own format. But what if you need to integrate the audit information of several BPMS? What if you need to correlate process instances that cross other applications in your IT infrastructure, such as imaging systems, messaging infrastructures, etc.? You will need some common format for these audit events.
In the mid-1990s the Workflow Management Coalition had attempted to standardize a format for these events, it was dubbed the Common Workflow Audit Format (CWAD), and it was utterly unsuccessful. First, it was developed just prior to the onset of XML. Second, it used variable headers and footers around a common body for different types of audit events (i.e. it was not very elegantly designed). Third, at the time most vendors treated audit information as a source of debugging information, but not as a source of business intelligence.
For quite a while now the WfMC has discussed a rework of this initial attempt and I am happy to announce that we have just released the first public review version of the Business Process Analytics Format (BPAF). BPAF is a tool-agnostic XML schema for events that occur over the lifecycle of a business process instance.
During the initialization and execution of a process instance, multiple events occur which may be of interest to a business, including events that relate to the instantiation and completion of process activities, internal process engine operations and other system and application functions. Using BPAF-based information, a business can determine what has occurred in the business operations managed by a business process management system. BPAF is designed as an implementation-independent data format that enables the aggregation and correlation of audit data across multiple platforms. While we anticipate that the major sources for BPAF data will be business process management systems, the use of the standard is not limited to these systems and other information systems may publish events following the BPAF data structure to allow for easier integration with other process-related audit data.
The schema is pretty straightforward, here is a graphical snapshot:
The key to BPAF is a classification of audit events that can occur over the life-cycle of a process instance. CWAD used three different state machines, resulting in three different event formats: One for processes, one for activities, and one for work items. We integrated everything into a single state model that incorporates what we learned from the Wf-XML state machine with the proposed activity states of BPEL4People and WS-HumanTask.
If you are interested in the details, here is the public review version of the specification: 2009-02-20-WfMC-TC-1015-Business-Process-Analytics-Format-R1
To learn more and to actively influence the standardization process, please, head over to the WfMC Wiki where you can download the BPAF XML schema and participate in the further development of this specification.