ERCIM News No.30 - July 1997

Taking ESPRIT Business Process Project Results to the Market

by Kenneth Robinson

In the beginning ... the European Commission funded an R&D project called HICOS under its ESPRIT programme. The aim of this project was to provide support for business processes (also called workflow). The user organisation foci for the project were primarily the insurance and banking sectors. A follow-on Business Best Practice Pilot ESPRIT project (WeDoIT), driven by the needs of sheltered workshops working in the engineering environment, is now well under way.

Typical business processes include items such as insurance claim processing; or ordering, receiving, and paying for products. The key issue is that a sequence of activities needs to be undertaken to achieve the process goal; and these activities are essentially similar for different examples of the same process ­ eg different car insurance claims are handled in very similar ways in a given insurance company.

Understanding an organisation's business processes is key to understanding the organisation, and therefore maintaining the organisation's health. It is also a powerful way of coping with change. Business processes themselves are usually quite complicated and coping with all the ramifications of a process is difficult. In addition, many business processes are of high value to an organisation ­ consider the process which underpins handling bank transactions, for example ­ and therefore it is essential that these processes are well-designed, not just from the viewpoint of efficiency, but also from the view of reliability (consider what would happen if a bank should lose just a small fraction of their transactions!).

DCI staff in the User Interface Design and Software Engineering Groups were involved in RAL's part of the project ­ the development of a graphical tool to enable business specialists (not IT people) to design these business processes. To help cope with the complexity of many processes, a variety of features is offered, including multiple views of the partly designed case, suitable for different aspects of the process design. Another is the capability of simulating the case, prior to completing the process definition; this enables the process designer to evaluate the impact of his design on the end users. Once the design is complete, a reasoning module checks various aspects of the process design, increasing further the confidence of the designer in his work.

One of the partners in the HICOS project was OEDAV GmbH, a German software house specialising in the insurance and financial areas. Two complementary contracts with CLRC have been negotiated. One of these contracts is to develop the RAL tool to further improve the functionality to aid OEDAV in penetrating the market with the suite of HICOS products. The other is a straight licensing agreement which gives OEDAV the rights to licence sales of the RAL tool in parts of Europe which form their traditional marketplace, in return for royalty payments. This represents another fruitful cooperation between RAL and European industry.

Please contact:
Kenneth Robinson - CLRC
Tel: +44 1235 446491

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