Business Process Modeling Using an Interactive
Framework for Immersive Research, Support and
Training (I-FIRST)
Wade M. Poole
1, 2
and S. Ramaswamy
Applied Science Department
University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2801 University Ave, Little Rock, AR 72204
Computer Science Department
University of Arkansas at Little Rock, 2801 University Ave, Little Rock, AR 72204
Abstract. Business Process Management (BPM) has emerged as a leading
technology for business process solutions in current day enterprise systems.
However, business processes do dynamically change as companies constantly
evolve to meet their core business needs. Business processes involves a more
complex socio-technical phenomenon where processes and people are the main
components. In this paper, we propose an Interactive Framework for Immersive
Research, Support and Training (I-FIRST) to assist Disadvantaged Business
Enterprises’ (DBEs) with an integrated business decision-support system. I-
FIRST which uses a dynamic approach to model the planning and integration
of business processes facilitates the alignment of DBEs’ business processes to
help them compete successfully. While the framework on one hand allows the
ability to model the business processes to leverage expert domain knowledge,
on the other hand, it immerses a decision-maker with selective modifications of
some business processes using a dynamic feedback mechanism. The
methodology proposed utilizes a complete end-to-end systems-based approach
to leverage appropriate feedback and a computer-based learning environment
called Teachable Agents (TAs) which focuses on the learning by teaching
1 Introduction
Since the advent of affordable personal computers in the 1980's, the World Wide
Web has become the most important driving force of today's businesses and the
economy, in general. Companies have started to find a new business opportunity in a
web-based environment. For example, companies such as Dell Computer Systems
have revolutionized the PC market with their direct-to-customer approach to
consumer marketing. Many companies have begun to realize that this approach
allows them to achieve two of their most important, but often, contradictory goals,
namely, maximizing profits and reducing retail costs, effectively and efficiently. In a
traditional environment, these goals were very difficult for companies to achieve.
M. Poole W. and Ramaswamy S. (2007).
Business Process Modeling Using an Interactive Framework for Immersive Research, Support and Training (I-FIRST).
In Proceedings of the 5th International Workshop on Modelling, Simulation, Verification and Validation of Enterprise Information Systems, pages 21-30
DOI: 10.5220/0002433300210030
However, by conducting their business through the web, more and more companies
are beginning to stake out a claim in this market, with large conglomerates quickly
adapting their business strategies to include the web as an enabling technology to
conduct a low-cost business. This ability of transforming key business processes
enabled by Internet technologies is termed as E-Commerce. The Internet has thus
provided a greater access to useful information allowing customers to make informed
choices. The removal of geographical trading barriers means that success will follow
organizations that (i) offer the best deal, (ii) make it easy for other businesses and
customers to trade with them, and, (iii) manage and leverage the advantages provided
by E-commerce, while still adhering to their core business goals. Thus, to be
effective, E-Commerce must be totally integrated into every business area of the
organization that has a service, management or quality focus. Early pioneers have
already been in the limelight for the past few years, and examples of new entrants into
markets making tremendous inroads into well established competition galore.
Moreover, those traditional companies without a stake in this market are struggling to
keep up with the newcomers.
Therefore, the rise of E-Commerce has been the greatest threat from the Internet
to most traditional companies. These companies are so tightly focused on their core
business segments that they neither have the resources to develop business strategies
for the new Internet environment, or they do not understand the implications of this
emerging business environment. Many analysts have predicted that those
organizations, which do not fully embrace a web-based business plan using E-
commerce as an enabling and driving force, stand to lose enormously in the next
decade when the Internet is still expected to grow at a rapid pace.
It is our perspective that with the rapid growth of consumer and business
software applications, customers will require software systems to be distributed,
interactive and intelligent (in a domain-specific sense), with ubiquitous human
interfaces, and the ability to exhibit intelligent cooperative behaviors. According to
Winograd, he states that “In the next fifty years, the increasing importance of
designing spaces for human communication and interaction will lead to expansion in
those aspects of computing that are focused on people, rather than machinery” [14].
We believe that E-Commerce software applications are not alien to such requirements
and will need to adhere to similar objectives. While business to business (B2B)
transactions will represent the largest revenue sector, revenue from customer-to-
business (C2B) and business-to-customer (B2C) applications will also gain further
attention. The PI believes that manufacturing companies that embrace the E-
commerce strategy will be able to reduce inventories, increase productivity and
profitability, cut costs and improve supplier relationships. Manufacturers will be able
to procure products for the lowest costs from suppliers, thereby reducing the costs of
procurement as well as growing their business without being dependent on specific
suppliers. By incorporating a smart analysis module, one may even be able to
optimize inventories by procuring supplies at an optimal price and time. Greater
independence from suppliers may help boost the overall operating efficiency and
productivity of manufacturing industries. E-commerce technologies can also replace
traditional paper-based workflow in a manufacturing environment with faster, more
efficient and reliable communication mechanisms, thereby reducing redundancy and
wastage of resources in various management activities such as report generation and
information system integration.
Currently a vast equity divide exists between Prime Contractors and
Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBEs) in several business enterprises, including
within the domain of our interest, the highway and construction industry. Due to this
equity divide, DBEs are falling well behind Prime Contractors in adequately
competing and obtaining successful contracting opportunities. DBEs have become
deficient in the knowledge and the leveraging of technology to map and implement
appropriate business models and strategies in a timely manner to compete in an
electronic marketplace that is being adopted by all organizations, including
governmental organizations, such as the DOT. Through the use of emerging
technologies for training and support, DBEs could be afforded the same technological
advantages as Prime Contractors who utilize the appropriate business strategies to
provide products and/or services to the highway construction marketplace in a timely
manner. Without such timely utilization of emerging technologies to develop training
and support mechanisms through the appropriate use of models for learning and
teaching, DBEs will continue to be deficient in developing a profound understanding
to compete successfully on highway projects. For example, a lack of the utilization of
emerging technologies for training and support forces DBEs to interpret the business
process model based only on his/her particular perspective and to make untimely, and
often incongruous, decisions during the planning and construction stages of a project.
In the case of the highway industry, DBEs should have the flexibility to design a plan
that best suits the USDOT’s requests. The knowledge that guides such a design of
inquiry response is implicit and often in the mind of a domain expert, e.g., project
consultant; and some such decisions are context based and cannot be anticipated at
design time. The increasing interest in business process modeling as a tool for
capturing requirements and graphically documenting the processes of an organization
to be supported by the enterprise information systems are widely evident from the
mainstream literature [6]. However, this complex social phenomenon is more
complicated than the scope and features of the traditional methods used. There is
significant evidence in literature on the difficulties in mapping process logic to
process models [12].
Consequently, DBEs may not fully understand how to automate the coordination
of business processes in a timely manner. Such technology specifications would
appear ambiguous and would result in a combination of issues that lead to eventual
failure as the project evolves and progress through the various construction stages.
Industry studies have shown that 53% of the BPM efforts go into defining the process
requirements, and the process modelers are typically business owners rather than
domain experts [5]. We believe that without the support of an immersive
environment, the complexity of mapping business processes and providing
appropriate support and training can negatively impact DBEs. As a result, the equity
divide will only widen between Prime Contractors and DBEs due to such
“disconnects”. Hence we propose this interactive framework to better integrate the
use of appropriate learning and training methods, and to support effective business
process realignment.
The goal of this paper then, is to provide a simple framework through the use of
a domain expert (project consultant) for business process remodeling with appropriate
immersive support for decision-makers to address “difficult” business processes
through a continuous feedback mechanism. This framework is a direct attempt to
design and implement a useful tool for capturing successful business processes and
subsequently providing targeted training and support to guide the refinement of
business processes to positively impact the success of the business. The rest of the
paper is structured as follows: Section 2 briefly describes the goals of the US DOT’s
DBE program. Section 3 provides business processes characteristics and Section 4
outlines the methodology for the business process modeling. Section 5 presents the
complete Interactive Framework for Immersive Research, Support and Training (I-
FIRST) and the integration best practices from equity theory, teaching and learning
theories to support DBEs.
2 US DOT Goals for DBEs
The US Department of Transportation's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) is
a federal program that is intended to ensure non-discrimination in the award and
administration of US DOT-assisted contracts in the Department's highway, transit,
airport, and highway safety financial assistance programs. The goals of the program
are to remedy past and current discrimination against disadvantaged business
enterprises, to ensure a "level playing field" in which DBEs can compete fairly for
DOT-assisted contracts, improve the flexibility and efficiency of the DBE program,
and reduce burdens on small businesses. DOT's Operating Administrations distribute
substantial funds each year to finance construction projects initiated by state and local
governments, and public transit and airport agencies [9]. This research attempts to
support DBEs in being successful in the pursuit of these opportunities.
3 Business Processes Characteristics
In traditional enterprise information systems, workflow technology has been widely
used to automate the synchronization of business processes. However, the study of
enterprise information systems would reveal that the system cannot be performed
completely and adequately unless conducted in the organizational and social context
in which the envisioned system will have to operate and support business processes.
Workflows represent the organizational flow of control and information from one
processing entity to another [14], [16]. A business process (e.g., budget decision
making or procurement) consists of a number of tasks, such as collecting and
analyzing financial data [11], requesting an item from a procurement catalog,
approving a request, and compiling a purchase order [8]. The individual tasks
possess characteristics, such as being well thought-out, multiplicity, expectation, and
exigency, that impact the type and level of flexibility required to provide sufficient
business support. Providing a workable balance between flexibility and control is
indeed a challenge, especially if generic solutions are to be offered. Clearly, there are
parts of the process which need to be strictly controlled through fully predefined
models. Over the past few decades, businesses were misguided by the belief that IT
alone will solve all their corporate woes, and consequently businesses
overemphasized the role of IT while underestimating the importance of a clear
understanding and critical analysis of their business processes [4].
Business processes are a sequence of activities with circumstances that regulates
when these activities will be performed, and the amount of resources required to
perform the activities. Also, the processes require data to flow between activities and
have interaction with those services. Simply put, a process is a specific ordering of
activities with clearly identified inputs and outputs that create business value.
Whereas a system is a combination of interrelated elements, parts, methods, or
procedures forming a complex unitary whole working together toward a common
objective as shown in Figure 1 [1].
3.1 System Diagram
In Figure 1 [1], the system receives input variables such materials, information,
energy, and/or organizational structure which are then control by a controller. The
controller which could be technical, political, economical and/or environmental
triggers that monitors and affects the operational conditions of the system. Both
human-made and natural systems exhibit collective behaviors amongst individuals in
which the controller seek some form of equilibrium. The mechanisms which are
called actuators are agents such as human resources, computer resources,
facilities/utilities and maintenance that act upon an environment. Subsequently, the
system produces output variables such as products, information, resources and/or
Human Resources
Computer Resources
Fig. 1. System Diagram.
4 Proposed Methodology
Modeling any dynamic process still presents many significant challenges for DBEs.
Modeling needs to be consistent and thorough in capturing relevant information so
that DBEs and their employees can understand the business requirements that are
captured in the model. During modeling, alternatives and exceptions to standard
procedures must be captured, in addition to normal operations. Many professionals
with differing interests and expertise have built process models to meet a wide range
of business objectives. For example, a DBE may require a high-level view of a
process to drive strategic decisions and to do process analysis upon receiving
feedback, then implement the appropriate training needed for success. Lastly,
utilizing feedbacks, DBEs would use the process model as the input to implement a
solution. If we look at the control systems (or cybernetic) theory, it provides an
explanation for our behaviors that can be described as goal-directed, or purposeful, as
shown in Figure 2. At this high level of abstraction, it is applicable to business
processes because it is guided by specific designs, tasks and business goals. One
would find that the control system theory has been applied to the explanation of
phenomena in a variety of fields, such as Physiology [2, 3], Engineering [14], and
Psychology [10]. The basic idea behind the theory is that the behavior of a self-
regulating system is effective and efficient only to the extent to which it successfully
controls the end results of the behavior. In other words, it is important not only to
produce a certain output in reaction to events in the environment, but also to monitor
continuously the effects of that output and to adjust and subsequent behavior
accordingly [14].
Business Environment
Analyzer (Event
Support &
Fig. 2. The I-FIRST Model for Dynamic Business Support.
5 Modeling Framework
The following are the major steps in the I-FIRST framework, as captured in Figure 3:
1. The Project Analyst (e.g. Domain Expert) works with the DBEs (e.g. Project
Team) to get all of the information required to design the business model such as
roles, tasks, sequence information, resources, data, narratives, requirements and
so on using appropriate tools as input to construct the business process model.
2. The process model is defined by the Project Analyst (e.g. Domain Expert)
working with the DBEs (e.g. Project Team) including the specifications for the
3. Next, the Project Analyst designs the feedback mechanisms required.
4. Both the specifications and the feedback are verified and checked for
5. Different simulation scenarios based upon historical event logs captured in a
previous project of a similar nature, which in this research represent business
strategies, are designed by a set of parameter values integrated into an extended
Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT) chart. This extended PERT chart
not only captures the processes and their timelines, but also the resources
(including human personnel) involved in the processes. Hence the traditional
PERT representation is extended to include 3-part process representation such as
{<resources involved >, <process or activity>, <time estimates>}. The following
three time estimates are considered for each activity duration, ranging from an
optimistic time to a pessimistic time, and a weighted average that is computed for
each activity. Knowing the weighted average and variance for each activity
allows the Project Analyst and the DBE to compute the probability of meeting
different project durations dependent upon the availability of personnel and
resources. The weighted average activity time is computed by the following
formula: t
= (a + 4m + b)/6, where t
= weight average activity time, a =
optimistic activity time, b = pessimistic activity time and m = most likely activity
6. During the assessment stage, the results are analyzed using a total ordering of
events scheme for the event logs, because it is possible that two events a and b
that are not related by the happened-before relation (either directly or indirectly)
may have the same timestamps associated with them. For instance, if event a and
b happen respectively in processes P
and P
, both events will have the same
timestamp. Therefore, for total ordering on the set of all system events, an
additional requirement is desirable: No two events ever occur at exactly the same
time. Using this method, we will have a way to assign a unique timestamp to
each event in the system to provide a total ordering for all events in the system.
7. Additionally, Key Performance Indicators (KPI) derived from the various
process representations will be used as measures designed to track the critical
success factors of a business. This monitoring capability allows the DBE to
effectively monitor its KPIs. It also helps the Project Analyst (Domain Expert)
identify the problems and bottlenecks in the existing processes, thereby closing
the development loops within schedule. If the simulation results are not
satisfactory, one would proceed to the stage which calls for reassessing the
design and specifications.
8. Upon unsatisfactory simulation or assessment results, the assessment, design,
model and specifications are re-evaluated.
9. If the simulations results are satisfactory, the process calls for the stopping of
10. Same as 8.
11. Upon re-evaluation the process is adapted to provide a refinement to address the
drawbacks – This can be adding additional resources, reordering the occurrence
of events so as to lead to better chance for success in completing the process,
identifying appropriate training for some personnel, etc.
12. Critical information will be identified and appropriate sessions developed for
employee training and support.
13. Selected employees will be reintegrated into the project team after successful
completion of the training activities.
14. Project event logs from business process models are fed into controller where
they will be engaged using a Teachable Agent. The computer-based learning
environment called Teachable Agents (TAs) that focuses on the learning by
teaching paradigm.
15. Upon the successful completion of the business process (workflow) and
satisfactory assessment results which will lead to the next step (16) for the
stoppage of iteration.
5.1 Evaluation
Upon utilizing this methodology and artifacts, it would require an appropriate
evaluation of the soundness and rigorousness. According to Hevner et al. they suggest
that graphical representation should be very simple, intuitive and easily
understandable, at the same time, the accuracy and adequacy of such a representation
should not be compromised [7]. Furthermore, Hevner et al. suggest that methods
deploying artifacts should be evaluated using observational (e.g., case study) and
experimental (e.g., simulation) methods. Observational (case study) approach reveals
the applicability potential of a method and its artifacts in a given environment and
category that are targeted by the method. For example, case studies on different size
organizations, different levels of complexity, different levels of abstraction, but all
within the same category, e.g., highway and construction oriented firms (architects,
engineers, construction firms). Experimental (simulation) approach reveals if models
can be checked, analyzed and verified. This approach which provides a business
simulation assessment, not only allows models to be checked for reliability, but it
eliminates syntactic errors, illustrates dynamic behavior of models, and lends to
formal analysis. The business simulation assessments are team-based approach
activities designed to provide change in the business management of the firm. The
simulation assessments are used to enhance the project team understanding based on
the various cultural styles and their personal impact on the business environment. The
simulation prepares decision-makers for their role in aligning the business
specifications and strategies with the technical framework that small businesses need
to be successful. By enabling the decision-maker to immediately experience and
participate in the simulated business process, they will continuously help keep the
business and strategic views of the process aligned or “synchronized”. The
simulations are designed to offer the following (TIPS): (i) Teach project teams about
the overall required business environment; (ii) Improve project teams problem-
solving skills and decision-making effectiveness; (iii) Promote each project team
member’s acceptance, and the readiness for change; (iv) Strengthen cooperation and
communication in implementing change concepts.
Fig. 3. Framework of I-FIRST Logic Approach.
6 Conclusion and Future Work
This paper provides a brief overview on the I-FIRST framework being developed for
business process modeling to support DBEs. Since people learn in many ways such as
seeing and hearing; reflecting and acting; reasoning logically and intuitively;
memorizing and visualizing and drawing analogies and building mathematical
models, this research is designed to support different dimensions of learning and
training styles to provide businesses, specifically DBEs, a enhanced opportunity to be
successful in the pursuit of external funding. Past research on the timing and content
of feedback on individual immersive learning in computer-based learning
environments has shown that directed or corrective feedback helps with immediate
learning, whereas guided and metacognitive feedback help in gaining a profound
understanding of the domain and developing the ability to transfer this knowledge.
As this work evolves in the immediate future, we plan to support the use of
multiple learning models integrated with appropriate visualization to support the
faster aggregation of context-dependent information such as important concepts and
specifications so that employees of a DBE can learn faster and compete with Prime
contractors in the highway and construction industry. Key insights gained to help
people in DBE enterprises include supporting discovery and self-explanation of
important concepts through immersive training so that the decision-making skills of
employees are appropriately augmented.
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