Frank's Blog

What I Do 


This time something tagged "research". One condition of handing in a PhD thesis at my university is a generally understandable abstract. In the last hour I've got an inspiration on that. Nothing spectacular, but before I'm removing it from the final version for some reasons yet unknown to me (maybe my Prof knows), I'm giving you a clue on what I'm doing. Further reading is available here. So enjoy page one of my work:

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This thesis deals with a fundamental question of each scientific discipline. The question that is asked is nothing less than the very how does it work? The scientific discipline investigated is Business Process Management (BPM). In a nutshell, BPM provides concepts and technologies for realizing digitalized enterprises. This includes, but is not limited to, capturing, analyzing, deploying, running, monitoring, and mining business processes. Business processes in all flavors. Ranging from ad-hoc arrangements of simple activities over production workflows up to distributed, interacting services. This thesis focuses on how to capture -- formally -- data, processes, and interactions that make up the core of BPM.

The theory that is applied to build the formal models is called the pi-calculus. This calculus supports a simple idea inherently found in any real BPM application, that has yet been overlooked. Imagine a person called Steve. Now imagine the formal model of Steve. Let's call it S. In existing theoretical approaches to BPM, S had fixed connections to all other objects or subjects he could interact with. In the real world, Steve doesn't. Now image Steve would like to to call another person called Mary. However, there's one problem. Steve doesn't have Mary's phone number. Instead, he has the phone number of the directory assistance. The assistance can handle him the number of Mary. And Steve then can directly talk to her. Image the formal model again. S has a fixed connection to the directory assistance, called A. A in turn has knowledge of all currently registered phone numbers. When A handles the connection to M, that's the formal model of Mary, to S, an interesting thing happens. The topology of the connections is changed. S gains knowledge of M. During the course of the action, a connection between S and M is established that has formerly not existed. That's called link passing mobility.

While link passing mobility seems evident, and furthermore builds the very foundation of the Internet, its theoretical treatment in the area of BPM has long been neglected. That is where this thesis hooks into. It provides an in-deep analysis on the formal representation of data, processes, and interactions based on accredited pattern catalogues. Algorithms for mapping graphical notations to the pi-calculus. Extensions for dynamic binding in graphical notations. Two new kinds of soundness and a new behavioral equivalence criterion. Proof theories therefore. And a prototypical tool chain for investigating the practical feasibility of the results.

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Sounds like an advertisement you say? That's actually what it should be!
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Vienna Conferences 

Ok, while I'm waiting at the only airport I know of with free wireless, here's some wrap-up of the two conferences I've attended, BPM2006 and WS-FM2006 .

Let's start with BPM. Actually, I do like the BPM conferences a lot more than ICSOC (the other BIG conference in the domain). Maybe this has to do with the more European centered audience. This year, there have been three keynotes announced of all the big players in the market, starting with Microsoft, followed by IBM, and concluded by Oracle. Unfortunately the last one was dropped and we've heard about the BBB (Big Basic Bus) once again. So that's then 2:1 for IBM. Nevertheless, the Microsoft talk was quite interesting. It was given by Dave Green, the chief architect of the Windows Workflow Foundation. He didn't talked much about the architecture but showcased the tool support, which is quite nice if you like the vendor lock. That's because Windows Workflow Foundation builds atop of a bunch of M$ products like Windows Vista, SQL Server, BizTalk, Visio, Visual Studio, Office, the new FrontPage (can't remember the current name) etc. The most interesting part is the seamless integration of office for "manual" tasks. Let's see what the future will bring for M$, I'm leaning back in my Apple chair and watch it. The IBM talk was given by Don Ferguson, one of the 50 IBM fellows and a chief architect. The talk was just about the things you would suppose IBM is talking about.

Some interesting talks and papers I'd like to highlight. First of all the current research of the Reisig group in the project Tools4BPEL. This project already got some tools running like BPEL2oWFN and Fiona (Why do I like this name? Isn't it from the movie Shrek?). Fiona is able to check an oWFN for controllability and generate an operating guideline. If I've got some time I will definitely take a closer look. Another interesting talk was given by Skip Ellis, one of the first workflow pioneers. He talked about something beyond workflow mining that only a few people accepted to be beyond Nevertheless, his presentation style and "aura" was impressive. On Wednesday Wil van der Aalst in person gave a short paper presentation about "Verifying Workflow nets with Cancellation Regions and OR-Joins". Also quite nice, but still I'm not convinced that this is a final solution. Wednesdays talks ended early so that there was time to visit the "Hofburg". After visiting the rooms of Sissi and listening to what she did all day long (hair combing 2 hours, riding 6 hours, gymnastic 2 hours, preparing a evening dress up to 8 hours, changing her dress at least three times a day) I'm wondering what the Sissi movies are all about? The talks continued at Thursday. I can't help but I found my demo session the most demo-like one. That's because most presenters showed 12 out of 15 minutes slides introducing their tool. Ok, I had the advantage of having introduced my background as a full paper already on Tuesday. By the way, did I already mentioned my demo poster? To conclude, while the atmosphere at the BPM conference was quite nice, the talks at the WS-FM workshop have been by far more interesting.

The WS-FM workshop started on Friday and the audience changed drastically. Nearly 50% of the attendees came from Italy, another 20% from Spain, only two from Germany (including me), and one from the Netherlands (Wil van der Aalst). Wil gave a keynote about DecSerFlow. While the talk was nice and also the integration into YAWL, it was criticed a bit by the theoreticians. They wondered why only linear temporal logic (LTL) has been used. Interestingly, Marlon Dumas presented a paper of one of our students, Gero Decker at this workshop. Gero was recently in Brisbane, Australia to write his master thesis and convince the people at SAP research and QUT to utilize the pi-calculus as a formal foundation for their new choreography language "Let's Dance". And the interesting point is that Marlon managed to give the presentation without showing any equation. WOW again for the that. The most interesting talk has been "SCC: A service centered calculus" by Roberto Bruni (SCC is an homage to CCS). They introduced a nice approach to build a formal foundation for SOA's. Unfortunately, this is just another proprietary framework. He even stated on his slides that they could have been used pure pi-calculus instead, but that it would not directly express the things they wanted to consider. Ok, maybe a framework ten times as complex as the pi-calculus might help. The second interesting talk was about "Towards a Unifying Theory for Web Service Compositions". They utilized web pi-calculus and extended it with work units for transactional behavior. Unfortunately, they dropped the timings contained in web pi. I missed the talk of Schahram Dustar about "Service QoS Composition" because I had to catch my plane. I also met Christian Stefansen at the workshop, a PhD student working on a quite related topic to my own. Maybe we will have some more discussions in the future.

So, now I have to board my plane and stop writing the longest entry I've ever created. Yes, there are also some pictures available.
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Still alive 

Sorry for the delay, but I was quite busy the last months. Finishing the lecture on Business Process Management, writing my thesis and preparing papers and talks for conferences. Yes, conferences are coming. Next week is the 4th International Conference on Business Process Management, this year in Vienna. Three highly interesting days and each day a talk by me. Afterward the 3rd International Workshop on Web Services and Formal Methods is taking place. No, I don't talk about Web Services there, but I'm highly interested in the paradigm of Service oriented Architectures. I'm going to talk about my point of view at the EMISA conference taking place in Hamburg later in October.

Besides, I updated my homepage at the HPI, where you can now find a short BIO as well as slides of my talks and most of my publications. I recommend this one if you want a short version of my thesis (that has yet to come). Finally, I won't miss to point you to restingbird.info. This blog is maintained by a colleague of mine and focuses on RESTful business process management based on B3MN (an extension of BPMN) and the pi-calculus as a theoretical foundation.
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New Papers 

After the exciting days now a bit back to work. Today I got a notification that two of my research papers have been accepted for the 9th International Conference on Business Information Systems.

The first paper explains the motivation of my thesis and has been named during my Amsterdam trip: Why do we actually need the Pi-Calculus for Business Process Management? At this time I thought no one would ever accept such a nonscientific title for a scientific paper. However, even at our research group I got quite good responses like: "Ok, let's assume I actually do need a formalism (which of course is very unlikely), then, after reading your paper, I would consider Pi-Calculus". Now that I have chapter one of my thesis published (to appear in some book of the Springer LNCS series soon) - the remainder of my thesis will straightforward ;-)

The second paper is based on a product line of my colleague Arnd and thereby directly related to the work I'm payed for (see PESOA). Together with him we investigated how to model variant-rich business process diagrams, i.e. business processes containing variants that can be fitted to customer needs. This paper is titled: Variability Mechanisms in E-Business Process Families.

Both papers will be presented only by myself at the conference in Klagenfurt (Austria), as my colleague is visiting a conference in Shanghai (China) this time around. Did I chose the right conference?
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Amsterdam 

I'd like to tell you from my third visit to Amsterdam. I was a speaker at a workshop on Dynamic Web Processes at the 3rd International Conference on Service Oriented Computing evangelizing people to Pi-Calculus. Actually I talked about some vision named: Toward a Formal for Agile Service Discovery and Integration. Yes I have to confess: The slides contained formulas.

The city itself was a bit disappointing. Amsterdam in winter is way beyond what I remembered like it was in summer. Nevertheless, there was anything you would expect from this city ;-) We were even invited to the city hall, where someone very smart told us about how much Amsterdam has been waiting for a conference on service oriented computing.

The conference itself was quite disappointing. Paying 500 euros just to sit at uncomfortable chairs in a hotel conference room with only coffee delivered - I don't know why they didn't chosed one of the universities having real auditoriums. The conference itself is best described by: Italy and IBM. You either have to have an italien family name or work for IBM, best of all from India. Because I'm not related to any of that, I always felt a bit outside. Nevertheless, six guys from the HPI visiting this conference made it something like a school trip.
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