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In my last article (http://www.ebizq.net/topics/bpm/features/5729.html), we discussed the challenges that constant change put on BPM efforts right from the start. These challenges make developing process definitions and maps that have enough detail to be automated difficult, and in some cases, impossible. Fortunately, a variety of approaches and practices are starting to emerge to address this situation. These include:

Dynamic Ad Hoc Routing – Ad Hoc routing involves a system that makes routing decisions at run time based on information provided by the user (or system) at the current step. For example, in a document routing process, it may be impossible to pre-define who should review particular documents, so the system could be configured to allow a user to choose the reviewers based on the document. This approach has pros and cons. The pros are that processes which require this flexibility can now be automated. The cons are that the possibility of errors and omissions is higher and the routing instructions have to be provided each time the process is used. There are some products that are capturing routing conditions that are defined on an ad hoc basis and using them automatically for future cases of the same document type.

Rules Engines – A second approach that is gaining traction is the use of rules engines. Rules engines separate the rule that drive process flow and decisions from the rest of the implementation code of the process. Since rules change the most, this makes it much easier to keep pace with changes to process requirements. In addition, the opportunity to re-use rules in different parts of the process or other related processes is much easier. Rules can typically do more than just define routing. They also can call other programs (for example using Web Services), set values, or launch other processes. The only downside of rules engines: the implementer still needs to know exactly where in the process the rules engine should be called. Sometimes this is obvious, but in other cases, it may be hard to predict up front, meaning the process has to be changed to add this call.

Hybrid Model – A third approach can be thought of as a hybrid of the two listed above to capture their benefits and address their shortcomings. In this, the system uses a rules engine to separate rules from the process, and it also allows rules to be created on a somewhat ad hoc basis, whenever they are needed. In this environment, specific calls to the rules engine do not have to be embedded in the process definition. Instead, the process engine is smart enough to know when to call the engine at any point in time. The on-the-fly rule creation can be done proactively, whenever the need for the new rule is identified, or reactively, when the system determines that it needs more instructions for what to do next. The process “learns” from these rules and follows them automatically for future matching cases, without requiring human involvement. In this approach, processes are defined and enhanced the same way they evolve in business—in response to real world business decisions and requirements. Equally as important, once the flows and rules are captured, they can easily be changed by the process experts, either to optimize the process or adapt to new business conditions.


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