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What is a process model composed of?

A systematic literature review of meta-models in BPM

Abstract

Business process modelling languages typically enable the representation of business process models by employing (graphical) symbols. These symbols can vary depending upon the verbosity of the language, the modelling paradigm, the focus of the language and so on. To make explicit different constructs and rules employed by a specific language, as well as bridge the gap across different languages, meta-models have been proposed in the literature. These meta-models are a crucial source of knowledge on what state-of-the-art literature considers relevant to describe business processes. The goal of this work is to provide the first extensive systematic literature review (SLR) of business process meta-models. This SLR aims to answer research questions concerning: (1) the kind of meta-models proposed in the literature, (2) the recurring constructs they contain, (3) their purposes and (4) their evaluations. The SRL was performed manually considering papers automatically retrieved from reference paper repositories as well as proceedings of the main conferences in the Business Process Management research area. Sixty-five papers were selected and evaluated against four research questions. The results indicate the existence of a reasonable body of work conducted in this specific area, but not a full maturity. In particular, in answering the research questions several challenges have (re-)emerged for the Business Process Community, concerning: (1) the type of elements that constitute a Business Process and their meaning, (2) the absence of a (or several) reference meta-model(s) for the community, (3) the purpose for which meta-models are introduced in the literature and (4) a framework for the evaluation of the meta-models themselves. Moreover, the classification framework devised to answer the four research questions can provide a reference structure for future descriptive categorizations.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    A comparative analysis of elements belonging to different business process modelling notations can be found in [2]

  2. 2.

    https://www.omg.org/spec/BPMN/2.0/About-BPMN/

  3. 3.

    https://www.omg.org/spec/UML/About-UML/

  4. 4.

    https://www.omg.org/spec/CMMN/About-CMMN/

  5. 5.

    As an example DECLARE provides constructs for a first/last activity, but it does not force neither suggest a process model should always include them.

  6. 6.

    While we do not necessarily advocate a quest for “the” single Business Process meta-model, we nonetheless believe that different views on a business process should be represented by reference meta-models and, more important, the relations between these meta-models should be clear and well understood.

  7. 7.

    https://dblp.uni-trier.de/

  8. 8.

    https://www.scopus.com/search/form.uri?display=basic

  9. 9.

    https://www.webofknowledge.com

  10. 10.

    https://link.springer.com/conference/bpm

  11. 11.

    https://link.springer.com/conference/caise

  12. 12.

    We have not considered papers related to keynotes speeches and tutorials from both the BPM and CAiSE proceedings.

  13. 13.

    Details of all the retrieved papers and of the ones removed in each step can be found in the CSV (Comma Separated Values) files in [5].

  14. 14.

    This characterization is roughly the one that we have exploited in reporting the concise description of the primary studies provided in Sect. 4. Even if the categorization of the primary studies in different groups was obtained when answering RQ1 and will therefore be discussed here, we decided to exploit it also in Sect. 4 for the sake of presentation.

  15. 15.

    We have classified the paper in Yahya et al [103] as independent from business process languages, although it reports both a generic business process meta-model extension and a specific extension for BPMN.

  16. 16.

    Note that, in answering RQ1 we do not take into account the process model elements described by the meta-models (e.g. whether they enable to describe roles, goals, artefacts and so on). This is due to the fact that we have a specific research question (RQ2) devoted to investigate what is described by the meta-models.

  17. 17.

    The work of Yahya et al [99] appears to provide an original, yet uncommon, “value-centred” approach towards business process modelling that seems to share some characteristics of artefact-centric declarative approaches. Nonetheless, a classification under the Dec and Art categories was not possible, due to a lack of details.

  18. 18.

    Please note that QA4 did concern with an evaluation/validation of the study which could encompass the meta-model, while here we refer explicitly to the evaluation of the meta-model.

  19. 19.

    Although the explicit element “value” only occurs in one of the meta-models of the primary studies [99] and hence does not explicitly appear among the elements of the value group, all the elements included in this group refer to measurable aspects related to the value of a business process.

  20. 20.

    Note that five elements belong to more than one set of macro-elements. They are: information, position, role, (software) application and process participant

  21. 21.

    The semantic overloading of the term “event” is a well-known fact in the BPM community. See e.g. the different definitions of event at https://www.businessprocessglossary.com/11516/event.

  22. 22.

    The overlap between the two macro-elements actor and resource can be due to the use of the term “human resource” in organizational sciences, which may lead to classify humans as resources.

  23. 23.

    At the time of writing, the links containing the full listing of mappings are not working thus preventing an assessment of the evaluation itself.

  24. 24.

    Interestingly enough, 2003 was the year when the BPM conference series started.

  25. 25.

    As an example, Johansson et al. [50] say that a business process is a “set of linked activities that take an input and transform it to create an output. Ideally, the transformation that occurs in the process should add value to the input”.

  26. 26.

    See e.g. the definition taken from [101] and reported in Sect. 1 on page 4.

  27. 27.

    The control flow elements that appear in at least 25% of the studies are activity, atomic activity, compound activity, event, control flow, gateway, parallel gateway and exclusive gateway.

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International Conference on Conceptual \(\hbox {Modeling}^{**}\) [57]
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Ibero-American Conference on Software Engineering [95]
East European Conference on Advances in Databases and Information \(\hbox {Systems}^{*}\) [31]
Multikonferenz Wirtschaftsinformatik [54]
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Workshop on Enterprise and Organizational Modeling and Simulation [45]
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International Workshop on Business Process Modeling, Development and Support [15]
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Adamo, G., Ghidini, C. & Di Francescomarino, C. What is a process model composed of?. Softw Syst Model 20, 1215–1243 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10270-020-00847-w

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Keywords

  • Business Process Modelling
  • Conceptual Modelling
  • Meta-Models