Today I’d like to highlight a nice feature of the newest Oracle BPM
Suite Release. I am very happy that Oracle enriched the Suite with
certain Case Management functionalities that fit into the existing
Service Component Architecture (SCA). In the past month I already had
the chance to play a bit with the beta software. With this post I’d like
to share some of my experiences.
Why Case Management?
Business Process Management becomes more and more important. With BPM
Suite processes can be modeled, implemented, simulated and executed in a
multi-user environment. There are also a lot of different reports
available to monitor processes during runtime. We see in our projects,
that this kind of automation is especially valuable for processes which
are based on routine work. Some examples are “Hiring”, “Order-to-Cash”,
“Order Management”, “Travel Request Management” and so on.
However - we also notice quite a high amount of processes, which are too
complex and too flexible to model them in BPMN. We call it
knowledge-intensive work. Of course if you have a lot of time you might
be able to model almost everything but is it a benefit to have processes
which are not readable anymore? How fast is your time-to-market? How
easy is it to implement process changes? How can you support the job of
the knowledge worker? Some typical domains with a high amount of
knowledge-intensive work are Insurances, Banks, Healthcare, Civil
Services and Government Agencies.
Let me try to explain the need of case management with our RYLC example.
RYLC stands for “Rent your legacy car” and it was introduced in a
series of articles as an overall solution example. The main target of
RYLC was to explain concepts like service categories, loose coupling,
canonical data model, service security and much more (see SOA Spezial magazine
for details). The graphic below shows the complete End-to-End RYLC
process in BPMN notation from receiving the request, selection of the
car, checkout of the vehicle, returning it, creation of the invoice and
cash clearance. I highlighted the checkin-part of the process, which
covers the return of the car. It is based on an asynchronous message
exchange pattern - the process execution stops until the checkin is
completed or canceled. In this stage several things can happen.
|BPMN Example - Rent your legacy car (RYLC)|
The happy path of the process would be that everything goes well and the
customer returns the car at the date that has been agreed during the
reservation. The extension of the rental period can trigger other
actions which are necessary to satisfy the customer. In worst-case the
customer might have an accident or somebody steals the car.
A lot of effort and time is necessary to bring all the mentioned
varieties into the process. Examples like an accident will result in
claim notifications and extended communication with the appropriate
insurances. It is difficult to model each potential option. This is
where Case Management comes into the game. It helps us to combine
different milestones with the appropriate task actions, business rules,
stakeholders, resulting events as well as data and documents (see the
image below). During the car-checkin different milestones like “In
Rental”, “Accident” (optional), “Stolen” (optional), “Returned” and
“Approved” might occur. Each milestone consists of mandatory and
optional task actions. Their execution order is defined by business
rules. The task actions can be system driven (implemented as services)
or user driven. Of course similar to BPMN some data and documents are
exchanged in each step. Case Management is mainly controlled by the
knowledge worker, which means that they affect the “flow” of the case.
Therefore the definition of stakeholders and their permissions is
another important aspect. Some example stakeholders in RYLC are the
insurance holder, driver, car park assistant, front desk clerk and the
rental manager. Based on the milestones and the task actions different
events can occur that trigger new situations. Case management can
support the knowledge worker with the right information (but the
knowledge worker keeps the decision & process authority). Better
and faster process decisions are the benefits of it.
|Key aspects in Case Management |
To conclude: Case Management covers complex and unstructured
knowledge-intensive scenarios where modeling is too expensive and time
consuming. It is non-deterministic, which means that the case flow is
dynamically determined at run-time. The case participants choose actions
to meet goals. It can be used to enrich existing processes (like in the
RYLC example above) or as separate and independent solutions.
How-to define a Case in Oracle BPM Suite?
In Oracle BPM Suite 188.8.131.52 the Case component is introduced as a first
class artifact with support for milestones, events, adhoc activities
stakeholders and so on. Like BPMN, BPEL, Human Task, Rules, etc. a Case
can be created by just dropping it on the composite level. After
completing the wizard a case component, a business rule component and an
interface (exposed service) is visible (as illustrated in the image
|Composite.xml with Case component|
For now a composite can have only one Case component. Double-clicking on
the case directs you to the definition of the component. Here you can
define the milestones, case outcomes, data & documents, stakeholders
& permissions, user events and translations. The image below shows
how milestones and case outcomes can be defined.
|Definition of a Case|
Furthermore it is necessary to define and implement the case activities.
I noticed two ways of creating them. Option 1 is to open the wizard
under “New > BPM Tier” and select “Custom Case Activity”. Option 2 is
to promote an existing component as a case activity. For the article I
decided to go for option 2 – so I promoted the Human Task “Evaluate
Claim Notification”. A case activity does have its own definition – a
file with a *.caseactivity extension. You can find an example with some
of the parameters available for customization on the bottom of the next
|Definition of a Case Activity|
Additionally the business rule created along with the case component
needs to be configured. It comes with a set of predefined functions
(e.g. activateActivity, withdrawActivity, reachMilestone and
revokeMilestone), Facts and Bucketsets (e.g. TEventType,
TMilestoneEvent, etc.). The definition of rules is necessary to handle
all the different situations of the case. Typical examples are
ACTIVITY_EVENTS which trigger new activities or milestones,
USER_DEFINED_EVENTS which have been specified in the case definition
file or MILESTONE_EVENTS which trigger the appropriate case activities
(see the screenshot below). There are many different options and I hope
that some documentation material is going to be published soon.
|Definition of a Case Rule|
During runtime you can take advantage of the monitoring capabilities
from the Enterprise Manager – as you might already know from BPMN or
BPEL processes. How many case-instances have been started in which time
frame? Which milestones have been reached? Did there a fault occur?
Which rules and which activities have been activated? The screenshot
below shows the instance information of Oracle’s "EURent" Case
|Monitoring of Case instances in EM|
With the new Case Management functionalities BPM Suite confirms its
outstanding position. I couldn’t wait to play with the software and I am
really happy to demonstrate the new product capabilities to our
customers. What I didn’t mention so far is the importance of user
interfaces and tight integration with content management systems like
WebCenter. So there is more to come :-)
Disclaimer: The company I work for is partners with several vendors including Oracle