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Introduction to business process modelling

Explaining concept of a business process, and the DESIGN of process models using the standard modelling language Business Process Model and Notation
MARIA IACOB: My name is Maria Iacob. In the next minutes, I will talk about business process management. This video should help you become familiar with business process related concepts, and with the design of a process model using the standard modelling language, BPMN. So what is a business process and where to look for them? Our daily life is full with examples of such processes. Take, for instance, the recipe we follow to bake a cake, or the steps we have to carry out in order to apply for a new passport at the local municipality. Both these two examples give us hints on the main feature of a business process. It consists of a precise ordering of steps.
It has a start and an end, and it uses some resources to create an output which is of some value for the customer of that process. Two widely accepted definitions that emerged almost simultaneously in the academic literature in the ’90s are shown on this slide. They are both very similar to what I just said. So to sum up, a business process is a sequence of activities that take place between the request for a service or product and the delivery of that service or product. A process consumes resources, which can be people, information, money, materials to produce the desired result, and it can be cross departmental, or even cross organisational.
There are two ways in which people describe business processes, informally, using text or free form diagrams, or formally, using a formal notation or a process modelling language. Such formal descriptions are called process models. These are simplified, yet precise representations of the steps of a business process. So why should we specify business process formally? There are several strong reasons to do this. First of all, process knowledge is very important for the existence of each enterprise. If this knowledge is implicit and hidden in people’s minds, the risk exists that organisations become dependent on these people, and are therefore vulnerable. The only way to make this knowledge explicit is to document the processes in precise process specifications.
A second reason is the need to continuously measure and manage the business performance of an enterprise. Besides keeping record of financial results, an organisation should closely monitor the performance and quality of its business processes. This is necessary in order to understand the root of possible problems, and thus, to have an objective basis for continuous process improvement. Thus, the development of formal process specifications facilitates the discovery of mistakes, redundancies, bottlenecks, and resourcing issues through qualitative and quantitative process analysis. Consequently, process optimisation becomes possible through redesign and leads to better management and clearer responsibilities. Finally, by modelling business processes, it also becomes possible to easily identify those parts of processes that can be automated.
Process automation is one of the most powerful and quick ways to achieve significant process improvement. Through this mechanism, organisations not only increase the performance of their business processes and address important challenges, but it also becomes possible for them to keep pace with the newest trends and technologies in the area of workflow and process aware systems. Let us now move to the question of how to model a business process. So which elements should be present in a good process specification? If we put different definitions of a business process next to each other, we discover pretty quickly that there are several elements that seem to play a central role in any process, such as activity, sequence, start and end, result, and input.
These are all, indeed, core elements in any business process model. Let’s see now how these concepts are represented in the business process modelling notation, or shortly said, BPMN. BPMN is an international standard process modelling language promoted by the Object Management Group, or shortly, OMG. In BPMN, there are four categories of concepts, flow objects, connecting objects, also called relationships, swimlanes, and artefacts. Let us discuss shortly a few of these concepts. An activity, also called task, represented as a rounded rectangle, is a unit of work to be performed. When marked with a plus, such a rounded rectangle represents a so-called sub-process that is an activity that can be further refined.
There are several other markers used in combination with the activity shape that have specific significations. Please refer to the standard specification of BPMN for more information on these markers. Also, an activity may have different types, such as a user task, manual task, service task, script task, and other types. An event is something that happens during the course of a process. Events affect the execution of a process flow. They can start, interrupt, or end the process or an activity. In BPMN, events are divided into three classes, start, intermediate, and end events. Within each class, there are, again, many types of events. Amongst the most representative being message, timer, error, cancel, and rule events.
Gateways are elements used to control how sequence flows converge or diverge within a process. In other words, a gateway is the place in a process where the process flow is either split into one or more process flows, or the other way around, a place where two or more process flows are joined into one. These flows may be alternative or parallel flows. In the first case, we talk about a or split or join, while in the last case, about an and split or join. Please note that parallel process flows are all executed in parallel, while in the case of alternative process flows, only one alternative is executed depending on the value of a certain condition.
Next to activity, one of the most important concepts in process modelling is that of a sequence flow relation, which is used to enforce an ordering of activities. If such a relationship connects to activities, it means that the second activity cannot start before the first one has been completed. Swimlane concepts are primarily used to group activities based on the entity executing them. Thus, a pool usually groups activities executed by a certain actor, for example, an organisation. A pool can be further subdivided into lanes to distinguish between the different roles within that organisation in both in the execution of the different activities in the process.
If a process contains more than one pool, any exchange of information, that is, any interaction between activities from different pools, are modelled through a message flow relation. Artefacts are information objects relevant during the process. Among them, data object, data stores, and messages represent information that flows throughout the process. Such data objects are linked to certain process activities, during which they are created, updated, accessed, or deleted. This is done through association relationships. Thus, the association relationship is used to associate artefacts with process flow objects. Let us make things a little bit more concrete and take a look at a few process model examples. We will try to identify in these models some of the concepts I just explained.
This model is rather simple, and in essence, it describes the steps to be carried out by the employees of a bank when assessing a loan request. More concretely, the process consists of one pool that corresponds to the bank with two lanes, for an account manager and an expert credit assessor. The process further consists of some activities, a start event and an end event, and an exclusive or gateway. Please note the process pattern shown in the rectangle. This is a so-called process loop. A loop is a sequence of activities that is executed multiple times as long as the guard condition takes a certain value.
In this particular example, the repeated sequence consists of two activities, respond request and review and complete response, while the guard condition is modelled as response is OK. Let us make our example a little bit more complex by adding a few elements to it. First of all, please note a second pool representing the requesting customer. You may have noticed that now we know a bit more about the nature of the different activities, as some of them contain a type marker. For example, the respond request activity is a human activity. In addition, this activity also exhibits a timer event, which indicates that this activity has a certain deadline.
Another new element is the presence of message flow relations to model the exchange of messages, or in other words, the interaction between actors represented by the two pools. Also, let’s take a look at the process pattern shown in the rectangle. It represents two parallel control flows. Both the split and the merge of these flows are realised by means of an end gateway. If we add yet another level of detail to our model, we can make it even more precise. We can now also see that a response data object is created during the respond request activity, which is later also archived into the document management system data store.
Business process models may vary greatly in terms of style and level of detail, as we have already seen with our small example. In most cases, there are important factors, such as focus, scope, goal, and audience that have a great impact on the content and looks of the model. Some models may focus on the interaction between actors. Others aim at giving a high level overview of some large, complex processes in which process details are not important and are hidden. On the other end, you may also see models, the purpose of which is precision and detail. These are low level process models. In this video, we have discussed the main concepts related to business processes.
You have seen a few examples of models, and you’ve become familiar with the BPMN modelling language. Thank you for watching.

In this video we define and explain the need for formal business processes.

We also introduce and discuss the main business process modelling concepts as defined by the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) standard. The most representative are: activities, events, gateways, control flow, information flow, swimlane, pool, and artefact. We conclude the video with a few example models.

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