After coming back from my presentation at BPM 2010 Demo Track (and my very first time in a conference of Business Process Management) about Smart Process Management, i would like to point out some thoughts I have in mind, mostly regarding at the future possibilities of using Artificial Intelligence Planning and Scheduling techniques in order to cover some of the gaps that still exists in BPM.
Even if using P&S for BPM can be very promising, I think that clearly the main research problem that have to be focused within this area is the dynamism that a Process can suffer during its life-cycle. When I say dynamism, I refer to the changes in the environment and/or the process model itself, that could happen once that the process has been started. These changes in the environment are the main reason for the emergence of a new area called “Adaptive Case Management”, and a very interesting panel discussion took place in the conference, driven by Keith Swenson, Dana Khoyi, Dermot McCauley and Jacob Ukelson. I was lucky to talk with Dermot McCauley, and what he told me is basically exposed in this excellent blog post at Column2, which briefly overview ACM as well.
In this panel discussion, K. Swenson gave a good definition of what ACM is, by using the “House” serial as example, and where decisions are made “on the fly” by the doctor, where the execution path cannot be predefined. Then, I came out with an issue: even if this is inevitable, doctors also try to do their own processes repeatable, capturing their models into what they call Clinical Guideline Protocols. So, as it is said in Column 2 blog, they look for a “happy path” showing what the patient treatment should be like. Hence, “this is not purely unstructured process, where there is no predefined model, but dynamic BPM where the model is predefined but can be readily changed while in flight.“. We can see that BPM and ACM can coexist.
So, if P&S techniques are going to be used in order to help to control and manage the technical problems associated with this dynamism, we must have clear in mind that P&S should be able to manage *at least*:
* exogenous events that can occur, even without having previously been foreseen in the process model, that changes either the model or the execution path.
* changes in the process model itself (skip tasks, add new tasks).
* changes in the enviroment (conditions of the knowledge workers, new knowledge workers, controlling the busy or available states).
* different (and possibly concurrent) execution paths, i.e. cases can be interrelated.
From my point of view, I see that P&S could be able to offer these features, by interleaving different planning stages, where the start and end points of these planning stages are delimited by the time at which the changes occur. Furthermore, there is already strong research open in continual planning, plan monitoring, re-planning and plan repair, which is similar and can be used for the problems arisen in this post.
Update: More insights into our very first approach in this direction can also be explored in the paper “Integrating plans into BPM technologies for Human-Centric Process Execution” presented at KEPS 2010.