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Match processes to business needs: Apply BELA to case management

How Business Entity Lifecycle Analysis (BELA) enriches case management solutions

Tien Nguyen, Bethesda, Maryland
Executive IT Architect - IBM Software Services Federal, IBM Software Group

Marc Fiammante, La Gaude, France
Distinguished Engineer and Chief Architect, Office of the IBM Software Group CTO, Europe

Introduction

Case management evolved from the necessity to evaluate, facilitate and execute on critical decisions while utilizing information in disparate repositories, departments and agencies and abiding by mission-critical guidelines and policies. These decisions must be made swiftly and accurately. Case management solutions can be deployed not only in traditional legal or social services environments but can also be deployed cross-industry. These solutions also apply, for example, to insurance claims, mortgage loan applications, customer complaints, incident reporting, and so on.

Case management as an IT solution is new. Most case management systems are custom database-centric applications addressing a specific vertical niche such as social services, legal litigations, medical care, and so on. Recently with the maturity of the technologies supporting case management capabilities, such as:

there is a burgeoning trend toward considering case management as a generic, cross-industry IT solution.

Due to the predominant role of business processes in case management solutions, IBM Service-Oriented Modeling and Architecture (SOMA) has been a good candidate methodology because it focuses more on integrated capabilities than on pure product integration by enabling the identification of those services that will support business functions and use cases. One important activity pattern in SOMA is Business Entity Lifecycle Analysis (BELA). BELA allows for the identification of services/functions based on the analysis of key business entities’ lifecycles to ensure that the solution implementation tracks closely to the business needs.

This article describes how BELA applies to case management solutions.

Defining business entities and Business Entity Lifecycle Analysis

In an IBM developersWorks article on Data4BPM*, Prabir Nandi et al introduce the concept of business entities as a key representation of the business view of data and information.

The authors state that, “in most business process management tool suites data is treated mostly as an afterthought. Activities and their flows are the main abstractions and the data manipulated by the processes is essentially hidden in process variables. The presentation and aggregation of data is handled outside of the process definition, and implemented through generic service calls. This process-only approach ignores the important data perspective during business operation analysis, often obscures key aspects of the operations, and can lead to costly re-factoring throughout the solution lifecycle. ”

The authors advocate including data entities in business process modeling and introduce the concept of business entities. Business entities are defined as:

Key business-relevant dynamic conceptual objects that are created, evolved, and (typically) archived as they pass through the operations of an enterprise.... A Business Entity includes both an information model for data about the business objects during their lifetime, and a lifecycle model, which describes the possible ways and timings that tasks can be invoked and performed on these objects.

Business Entity Lifecycle Analysis (BELA) is a capability pattern built into IBM Service-Oriented Method and Architecture (SOMA) to track the state transitions of business entities against the lifecycle of the business process being modeled. BELA helps inject the business essence into process modeling by analyzing the lifecycle of business entities and determining the transition of process activities based on entity states. The various state changes in business entities help identify the services needed to drive the process to completion.

Business Entities, Services Definitions, Activity diagrams, State diagrams, BELA, SOMA, Process ModelsFigure 1. Role of BELA in process modeling (For full-size view, click on image)

In case management, the scope expands beyond the process dimension. Case management is a solution framework that brings people, information, and process together in order to execute specific business-mission-related projects. In that sense, BELA plays a role in each of those areas. BELA helps in the information space with accurate data models, in the people space with services and task definitions and in the process space with identification of milestones and key performance indicators (KPIs).

Case Mgmt Solution, Info/Content Mgmt, Human tasks Collaboration, BPM and Monitoring, Lifecycle tracking (Milestones, KPIs) , BELA, Data model, Services DefinitionsFigure 2. Role of BELA in case management (For full-size view, click on image)

Rationale for using BELA in case management solutions

As of now, there is no specific prescriptive approach to case management solutions development. Currently the implementation is treated as any other custom application development and uses a generic methodology. Often times, the solution is leveraging an existing legacy enterprise system, and the approach is tainted by that specific system’s biases and methodology. For example:

System Focus
Document management Version control, metadata, document foldering and content lifecycle
Workflow Queues, inboxes and assignments
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Contacts, interactions, and events
Database Search, queries, reports, and statistics
Collaboration portal Feedback, sharing, and multi-authoring
Email Communications, mail folders, resources boxes, and attachments

As a result of the lack of methodology in the domain, the tools end up defining the solution instead of the solution defining the selection of the tools. The case management problem is redefined to retrofit into the existing capabilities of legacy systems and infrastructure. This canned approach to design and solutioning does not lend itself to thorough problem decomposition and puts too much emphasis on implementation versus actually solving the business problem.

The lack of methodology often leads to a misalignment between the problem and the solution. Here are some typical activities an implementation team might find themselves engaging in:

The rationale for applying BELA to the implementation methodology of case management solutions lies with the prospect that BELA would:

BELA enriches case management

At its core, BELA in case management is implementation-centric and focuses on services. As shown in Figure 3, business entities’ attributes contribute to the solution information model, and their states help validate the steps in the process model. The access control criteria to information are modified during BELA to maintain a business entity’s lifecycle integrity, and the conditions for state transition within an entity’s lifecycle can feed into business rules that govern the solution process.

Additionally, BELA in case management is also management-centric and focuses on feedback and control. Figure 3 shows the extended capabilities in case management that are created, validated and optimized using the BELA prescribed activities.

BELA, Access Control, Rules, Information Model, Process Model, Service Model, External data transform, Content Mgmt, Compliance/Audit, Reporting Analysis, UI model, Collaboration, Human Decision, Alert/Monitoring, Triggers Events, BE Lifecycle Integrity, BE State Transitions, BE Attributes, BE States, Class Methods, Activities TasksFigure 3. BELA’s role within case management solutions (For full-size view, click on image)

The following aspects in the implementation of case management solutions are enriched with the BELA activity.

External data transform maps

Content management

Compliance/audit

Reporting/analysis

UI model

Collaboration

Human tasks/human decisions

Alert/monitoring

Triggers and events

BELA within a grant management solution

In the example in Figure 4, the business entity is the grant application itself. The grant application transitions from one state to another based on the progression of the grant review process and decisions made within that process. The grant application business entity also comprises document business entities such as budget proposal, business case narrative, past performances, and so on. Those entities also have their own lifecycles depending on the overall process and the lifecycle of their parent business entity (grant application).

Grant award process, Staff, Supervisor, Executive, Clerk validates app, OK, not OK, Specialists evaluate, Team compiles score, QA reviews, not OK, OK, Review, not OK, OK, Sign, Finance commits funding, Announce awards, Clerk closes app, Record manager files app, Application Documents BELA, Grant Application BELA, Applicant, Create app, Build app, Submit app, Accept award, New, Draft, Submitted, Accepted, Rejected, Assigned, Evaluated, Scored, QA, In Review, Approved, Signed, Committed, Awarded, Ach’ed, Closed, Record Declared, New, Replaced (no version), Deleted, Versioned by applicant, Versioned by staff, Versioned by Supervisor, Locked read-onlyFigure 4. BELA diagram for a Grant Application Processing example (For full-size view, click on image)

Conclusion

Case management solutions help streamline business processes and human decision-making based on specific information sets and/or content items, i.e., business entities. These entities will ultimately form the basis of all enterprise mission-critical records. In the end, these business entities and the information they carry reflect the quality of the overall business process, because they are invariably embodied as both the triggers and the outcomes of the process itself. All management capabilities such as auditing, reporting, analytics and monitoring, and all business rules and events rely on the information within the business entities. This very fact highlights the importance of juxtaposing the BELA activity with the process modeling activity in order to ensure the highest fidelity of the process to the business itself.

Additional information:

Richard Hull, IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, Enabling Smarter BPM through Business Entities* with Lifecycles (PDF, 889KB), Keynote Talk presented at CASCON 2010.

J. K. Strosnider, P. Nandi, S. Kumaran, S. Ghosh, A. Arsanjani, Model-driven synthesis of SOA solutions, IBM Systems Journal, Volume 47, Number 3, Page 415 (2008)

Craig Le Clair and Connie Moore, Forrester Research, Dynamic Case Management — An Old Idea Catches New Fire, (link resides outside of ibm.com) December 28, 2009.

David Yockelson, Advanced case management and BPM: Better together, IBM Smart SOA Newsletter, June 23, 2010.

Ann All, IT Business Edge, Case Management Is Step Forward in BPM Evolution, (link resides outside of ibm.com) March 8, 2010.


*Prabir Nandi, Dieter König, Simon Moser, Richard Hull, Vlad Klicnik, Shane Claussen, Matthias Kloppmann and John Vergo, Data4BPM, Part 1: Introducing Business Entities and the Business Entity Definition Language (BEDL). A first class representation and specification of data for BPM applications, (April 2010).

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