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Case Management for SOA

In a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), business capabilities are accessed as services by automated exchange of messages across organizational boundaries (see: OASIS SOA Reference Model). Automated business processes are essential components of this exchange, driving the exchange of messages and the associated work to be performed in the service provider and the service consumer. However, the conventional BPMS (Business Process Management System), represented by BPMN and BPEL standards, does not effectively address a class of business process commonly described as case management.

A basic consumer-provider relationship involves a request and a response. However, many service interactions are more involved, continue over some period of time, and may move in different directions depending on the business circumstances of the consumer, the provider, and potentially other entities directly or indirectly involved in the business transaction. Consequently, the internal operations of participants may not conform to a predictable sequence of activities.

Case management involves coordination and control of activities related to a particular subject matter, where the state of the subject as well as other circumstances will determine what should be done next, and when. An example of this is the management of a patient case in a hospital. The "case" is represented by the patient hospital record. The patient will be given various examinations, tests, treatments and services as his or her needs are diagnosed, and as the medical condition changes. In some cases, what is done next is determined by a medical professional, in some cases it might be determined by a rule, it might be scheduled, or it might be in response to a patient request or change in symptoms.

In the context of commercial services, we might consider a machine repair service. A repair request is given to the service provider. The problem is diagnosed and a preliminary solution and cost are proposed for consumer review; there may be alternatives suggested. The consumer may request certain changes or approve the approach. There may be continuing interactions as the repair is undertaken and additional defects are discovered. The provider may engage different supporting services for special skills, delivery of parts, or inspection of the results. This engagement could be hours or weeks, depending on the complexity of the machine and the availability of parts and personnel.

Such processes will be common in an enterprise that implements SOA or engages in SOA relationships, in part because SOA will bring automation to conventionally manual service engagement and operation. In most cases, both the consumer and the provider of a service will need to apply a case management approach in order to accommodate the flexibility of interactions. At the same time, it is important to specify the potential activities and interactions so that performance is reasonably reliable and measurable, and consumer expectations can be appropriately set and addressed.

Bruce Silver discussed the need to address case management business processes in his February, 2007, blog, "What is Case Management?". In the Object Management Group Business Modeling and Integration task force, the need to address case management processes was first discussed about a year ago. As a result, the task force developed an RFI (Request for Information) entitled Dynamic Business Activity Models RFI, and responses to the RFI by Cordys and Tibco were reviewed at the September, 2008, OMG meeting. Since then, Henk de Man of Cordys published an excellent article at BPTrends entitled Case Management: A Review of Modeling Approaches.

Work is currently under way to prepare an OMG RFP (Request for Proposals) for case management modeling. It is unclear at this point, but it is likely that the solution should be an extension to the BPMN 2.0 specification (currently under development at OMG). A BPMN 2.0 extension should ensure that a choreography (interaction specification) can be specified to complement a case management process, and case management processes can be seamlessly incorporated where appropriate in the business processes of an enterprise.

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About the Author(s)
  • Steve Simske is an HP Fellow and Director in the Printing and Content Delivery Lab in Hewlett-Packard Labs, and is the Director and Chief Technologist for the HP Labs Security Printing and Imaging program.
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