CEC Theses and Dissertations

Title

The Design of an Interoperable and Adaptable Workflow Management System Using XML

Date of Award

2000

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences

Advisor

John A. Scigliano

Committee Member

Jacques Levin

Committee Member

Michael Moody

Abstract

Daily business and office operations, which take place within the context of processes, are carried out by staff. These processes form a workflow. A supervisor assigns and coordinates the work, and monitors the workflow to ensure productivity and service quality. These activities are characterized as workflow management. As workflow grows in volume and complexity, so does workflow management.

A workflow management system (WFMS) is a proactive management information system that assists the workers to do jobs more efficiently by obtaining information or invoking application programs for them, and supports the managers in monitoring job execution, collecting performance statistics and balancing the workload among workers. As such, a WFMS is a metasystem that oversees and interacts with an existing manual or computer assisted business process. Therefore, a WFMS requires adaptability to work with all kinds of business processes.

Different workflows may be governed by different WFMSs. When a workflow needs to interact with another workflow, the involved WFMSs must work together by exchanging information or performing some monitoring functions for its counterpart. This means a WFMS must cope with invocation across (potentially) all platforms and network environments and transfer application or workflow relevant data in a common format. This also means WFMSs require interoperability.

The Workflow Management Coalition (WFMC) has published a Workflow Reference Model along with relevant standards and specifications to facilitate the development of interoperable WFMS. The advent of World Wide Web (WWW) and Extensible Markup Language (XML) also offered a great opportunity of expanding WFMS interoperability and enhancing WFMS adaptability. In fact, a recent WFMC standard on Interoperability WF-XML Binding has taken full advantage of this potential.

In this dissertation the author presents a two-tier approach based on these technologies to the design of an interoperable and adaptable WFMS. The resulting WFMS is document-centric, transaction-based and event-driven. During the design, the author of this study first observed two typical transaction-based business scenarios and developed a generic business process model. This generic business process model was then represented with a set of Document Type Definitions (DTDs) in XML. Any instantiation of the DTDs is an adaptation to a particular business process. The application programming interfaces were represented in XML considering the WWW environment. The software components of the WFMS were specified in terms of functionality and capability to process XML documents. Metainformation about external applications and databases were also represented in XML. Finally, the WFMS was evaluated in terms of design, adaptability and interoperability.

Because of the interoperability and adaptability, the author found that the design concepts in this study are not only applicable to the administrative type of workflow, but also to other types such as production-line workflow, collaborative workflow and ad-hoc workflow.

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