Qld uni YAWLs in open source BPM

Ironing out business process management (BPM) ambiguity with a well-defined, open source workflow language is the goal of the YAWL project, founded by Queensland University of Technology researchers.

YAWL, or Yet Another Workflow Language, will be attractive to IT managers as it provides a BPM solution over which they have full control, according to the project's manager Associate Professor Arthur ter Hofstede.

"For the cost-conscious IT manager, the absence of licensing fees may also be important and the risks typically associated with vendor lock-in can be avoided," said ter Hofstede. "YAWL's service-oriented architecture provides unique flexibility when it comes to enabling interoperability with external systems and extending current functionality."

YAWL aims to provide a support environment to specify, analyze and execute business processes, and to simplify the specification of executable business processes without the distraction of "unnecessary" technical considerations.

"We do not think that a business analyst [BA] needs to know Java," explained ter Hofstede, noting that YAWL provides comprehensive support for the workflow patterns and a repository for workflow modeling patterns.

"Business scenarios can be complex and a modelling language should be able to deal with this complexity," he said. "Business analysts should not need to continuously have to find workarounds to specify complicated aspects of business scenarios, which tend to occur naturally in practice, as this may lead to process models which are hard to understand and maintain."

BAs supported by automated analysis can identify potentially costly mistakes early in the process life-cycle, according to ter Hofstede, and they can rest assured their models have an unambiguous meaning as YAWL is rigorously defined.

"There should be no surprises during execution," he said. "Nor should there be a need to have lengthy debates about the meaning of the concepts used!"

YAWL now consists of an open source engine and GUI editor, both written in Java and released under the LGPL. YAWL uses XML Schema, XPath, XQuery and XForms natively, and is compatible with SOAP and WSDL. Development is done in conjunction with the Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands.

Another motivation behind YAWL was to make BPM vendors 'lift their game' and to increase opportunities for the more widespread use of BPM solutions.

"YAWL's open source model in addition provides a compelling argument for small to medium enterprises to explore the benefits of business process execution," ter Hofstede said. "Process execution environments are frequently criticized for their static approach to changing a process definition at runtime. YAWL offers a unique solution to dynamic workflow, widening the application of BPM technology into businesses with processes evolving so rapidly that they are literally changing as they are being executed."

YAWL developer Lachlan Aldred said through the selective use of open source software, YAWL offers a lot of support to business analysts and managers, and without it the project would be "years behind" where it is today.

"YAWL provides a conceptually strong, flexible, enterprise-grade workflow-BPM platform that managers and business analysts can exploit to gain efficiency improvements for their business activities, and provide better quality of service to their customers," Aldred said. "YAWL also provides strong opportunities for monitoring processes, integrating with remote processes, corporate governance and conformance with best practices."

The YAWL project is now seeking industry partners interested in contributing to the initiative.

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