Process transparency for digitization

(This is a translated version of my German blog published by the Institute für Einzelfertiger you can find here:

2020–05–23 — If you trust the general buzzword bingo, it only needs a little bit of artificial intelligence, IoT and Industry 4.0 and a manufacturing company has already successfully mastered its digitization. But it is the customer to decide whether a company and its digitization efforts are successful. They want excellent performance either quickly, cheaply, of high quality — ideally at the same time. Digitization does not change the fact that these services are provided through processes. Making processes transparent and then making wise decisions regarding the usage of procedures, methods and technologies is a sensible way to pursue the topic of digitization.

The following example shows the interplay of work processes (shown in white) that are carried out by employees or departments, software-executed IT processes (shown in blue) and machine processes (shown in yellow). Some process participants are ‘collapsed’; i.e. they are shown as a simple labeled rectangle (e.g. shipping department). The diagram conveys an overall overview of all the resources involved and their activities, even though it is greatly simplified for this article.

Representation of the interaction of work, IT and machine processes in a BPMN collaboration diagram

This illustration was created using a process description language called Business Process Model and Notation, or BPMN for short. This is a formal modeling language maintained by the Object Management Group (OMG). Due to its syntactic clarity, this modeling language has already been widely used in many industries because it offers numerous advantages:

First, because of the defined meaning of symbols, it offers a largely interpretation-free representation of processes. This is helpful to transparently present processes to employees and other target groups.

Second, it offers types of models (see Figure 1) that show a representation of several processes in their interaction. In this way, comprehensive analyses and optimizations of work, IT and machine processes are possible. The BPMN is not limited to one type of process, such as work processes.

Thirdly, the meaning of symbols is sufficiently precise to derive technical execution semantics from it. BPMN processes can therefore be executed automatically using so-called process engines.

We supplemented the same scenario in Figure 2 below with such a process engine and modified the entire collaboration accordingly with the objective to eliminate manual tasks. The engine now takes care of assigning tasks to certain resources and at the same time acts as a data transport, so that incorrect entries are largely eliminated. For this purpose, the engine executes the following BPMN task types

User Tasks:

Service tasks:

Remaining manual activities only take place in work processes (shown in white) for the machine operator and in the shipping department, since physical objects are handled there and are, for example, triggered by a user task “Send goods”. With larger quantities, further automation potentials would also be conceivable here.

This process engine depends on the programming interfaces of the PPS or the machine, which can be used for the appropriate integration. But even missing programming interfaces can usually be overcome nowadays without resulting in manual tasks. In any case, company-specific context must be taken into account. Process engines offer the necessary flexibility using BPMN.

With regards to the overall collaboration, further digitization considerations can now be made. Whether artificial intelligence, big data, VAR, IoT or even a process engine can be used sensibly depends on the value added in processes and ultimately also on the business model being pursued. Modeling using the BPMN is a good foundation because it ensures transparency and supports smart decisions for digitization.

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Originally published at



Business and IT consultant with a decade full of BPM history, focussing on model based process management.

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Björn Richerzhagen

Business and IT consultant with a decade full of BPM history, focussing on model based process management.