Entity-Centric Operations Modeling for Business Process Management. Part 1: A Multidisciplinary Review of the State-of-the-Art

The entity-based approach for operations modeling was published for the first time three decades ago. Specifically, the notion of entities as the main subjects of processes and entity life-cycle as a technique for dynamic modeling of operations were introduced independently by K. Robinson in 1979, C. Rosenquist in 1982 and M. Jackson in 1983. This modeling work emerged in clear contrast with static entity-relationship modeling found in the data-base tradition. These three pioneer contributions and other substantial research done at the realm of information engineering, structured systems analysis and social sciences in the 80’s and 90’s have established an important foundation for business operations modeling.

On the other hand, Business Process Management (BPM) has continued to receive great attention from practitioners and scholars. In spite of its steady growth, the industry side of BPM seems to have evolved somewhat unaware of related progress in the above sister disciplines. Specifically, recent claims on the need to integrate information and activities in process modeling and some rediscoveries of core ideas from entity-based dynamic modeling offer some examples of the disconnection. These and other findings suggest that the BPM field may not have yet fully benefited from the work done in the tradition of structured analysis, information engineering and process theory schools. Furthermore, the possibility of using entity life-cycle for modeling operations addressed by Case Management is an important byproduct. Entity-based life cycle offers a conceptual framework to integrate different types of enterprise operations whose modeling has not yet been reconciled in the BPM tradition.

Part 1 of this series presents an in-depth, multidisciplinary review of the state-of-the-art on entity life cycle modeling. The focus of this review is exclusively on modeling concepts and methodology while tools, programming models and other aspects of entity-life life cycle implementation will be addressed in companion papers. This will help pave more holistic approaches to business process modeling by benefiting from the work in different disciplines. Part 2 of this series builds further by presenting new horizons in entity-based modeling. Process theory and industrial organization show that processes have different structure and dynamics. However, most of the processes used in BPM are of a factory or production type. Part 2 will show that not all operations that matter can be addressed through the factory approach to entities. This will be illustrated with a wide family of enterprise operations called oversight processes. Furthermore, not all operations may be adequately explained by a life-cycle theory of subject evolution. Part 2 addresses a different developmental foundation that brings to bear related seminal work from Social Sciences. An abstract entity, called driver, will be used in Part 2 to show the value of entity-based modeling for business analysis beyond processes. Drivers provide a suitable subject that enables a more rigorous approach to so-called value-streams, an extensively used business term also needing formalization.

By: Jorge L. C. Sanz

Published in: RJ10488 in 2011


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