Business Process Management and Workflow Systems

Business Process Reengineering, Business Process Management, Workflow Management Systems and Process Aware Information Systems are a few concepts circulating around during the last decade and denoting a special kind of information systems or activities relevant for their development and utilization. These concepts address the intersection of the Information Systems and Business Management areas. As in any young discipline, this area suffers from a terminological blur, i.e. different people define the concepts above differently and sometimes the definitions are overlapping. Therefore, we start with a brief overview of the concepts we have adopted.


During mid 90 the ideas of Business Process Rengineering (BPR) from the U.S. gained increased attention. BPR denoted an organized effort of a company to streamline its processes. It was defined by Hammer and Champy [2]

the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical contemporary measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service, and speed.

BPR can be carried out at organizational level only. However, as most companies today are dependent on IT-systems that also influence the way of working, a BPR effort usually result in new needs and requirements put on the underlying IT support. If satisfied, these needs can significantly increase the benefit of the undergone business reengineering. One of the main critiques towards BPR regards its focus on a major solitary change, which can not sufficiently capture the continuous dynamics and evolution of an enterprise. As a result of this, in late 90s and early 00s the attention shifted from BPR to Business Process Management (BPM). Business Process Management includes, according to Weske [4],

“.. concepts, methods, and techniques to support the design, administration, configuration, enactment, and analysis of business processes.”

A Business Process is the ordering of a set of activities in an organization for achieving certain goals. A case is a specific instantiation of a business process. The administration of cases, hence business process execution, can be supported through software systems. A system specifically developed for this purposed is called a workflow management system (WFMS). A Workflow is defined by the Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) as the

.. automation of a business process, in whole or part, during which documents, information or tasks are passed from one participant to another for actions according to a set of procedural rules” [5]

Because of present confusion between the terms (business) process and workflow, we will refer to a workflow as the technical implementation of a (business) process in a Workflow Management System. Workflow models, which are usually graphical, are used to specify the process under consideration. A Workflow Management System (WFMS) is a system which can read, interpret, and execute processes by scheduling and distributing work to different agents according to workflow models. More precisely a WFMS is according to the Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC):

“A System that defines, creates and manages the execution of workflow through the use of software, running on one or more workflow engine, which is able to interpret the process definition, interact with workflow participants and, where required, invoke the use of IT tools and applications.” [5]

Figure 1 below shows the Workflow Reference Model by WfMC, defined approximately ten years ago. During these ten years also the term Business Process Management Suits (BPMS) has appeared and been adopted by some of the former WFMS vendors who now market their products as BPMS. Some (e.g. Gartner) claims that BPMS adds to the WFMS (which traditionally were build to support the document routing) the aspect of system connectivity. Indeed, while the development WFMS started thirty years ago as document routing systems, they have grown to exactly workflow management (and not document management) systems (which can also be seen from the ten years old Workflow Reference Model in Figure 1). We consider therefore the term BPMS as just a modern denotation for the traditional WFMS, simply aligned with the BPM trend terminology.

Fig 1 The Workflow Reference Model by WfMC

Recently, in 2005 the term process aware information system was coined. A Process Aware Information Systems (PAIS) is a

“software system that manages and executes the operational processes involving people, application, and/or information sources on the basis of process models” [1].

PAIS incorporates a wider spectrum of tools including WFMS, Case Handling Systems, Groupware (such as project management tools and process-aware collaboration tools), process/services composition etc. The lifecycle of a PAIS is depicted in Figure 2. Interesting to note is that in addition to the WFMS there is a category of tools focusing exclusively on supporting the business process analysis and modeling phase.

Fig 2 The PAIS life cycle (copied from [1])

Languages and Systems

As apparent from the previous section the area of BPM and Workflow system has been developing rapidly during the last decade. New business process modeling and implementation notations have been established and join the existing ones in continues development. Figure 3 chart the mainstream languages in the area. The obvious question is how these languages, which are created with the same purpose, i.e. business process modeling, compare to each other.

Since 2002, in cooperation with A/Prof. Arthur ter Hofstede, BPM Group, Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Prof. Wil van der Aalst, BPM Center, Technical University of Eindhoven (TUE) and QUT, we have been working on a number of deep analyses and comparisons of BPM languages. The method of work has been to study the languages through one same evaluation framework, The Workflow Patterns framework, developed at QUT, was used for this purpose. The framework was developed through a bottom-up analysis of more than 15 WFMS, during which a number of patterns were extracted and systemized into three categories: control-flow, data, and resource patterns.

Fig 3 Business process modeling languages (copied from [3])

The green shading in Figure 3 show the languages in which analyses we have been participated. (The results are listed below.) The blue shading show the analyses performed by our partners. The red shading show an analysis (with the same workflow patterns framework) performed by other researchers.

Recently, our work was extended to with the workflow patterns framework analyse some mainstream workflow management systems. The suitability of the following open-source offerings for BPM was studied:

Preliminary results from this work are reported here. The report is currently under review by the vendors.


[1] M. Dumas, W.M.P van der Aalst and A. ter Hofstede, Process Aware Information Systems: Bridging People and Software through Process Technology, John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2005

[2] M. Hammer and J. Champy, Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution, Harper Business, 1993

[3] 5. M. Josuttis, SOA in Practice, OReilly, 2007

[4] M. Weske, Business Process Management: Concepts, Languages, Architerctures, Springer, 2007

[5] The Workflow Management Coalition, “Terminology and Glossary”, WFMC-TC-1011,, 1999.

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