Project ArtiFact(TM) Home Page

This project is focused on the use of "business artifacts" to provide a unifying foundation for the management of business operations and processes. Business artifacts are based on a novel marriage of data and process, and can be used at different levels of abstraction by high business managers, business architects, solution designers, IT architects, and systems and software engineers.

Businesses and other organizations increasingly rely on business process management, and in particular the management of electronic workflows underlying business operations. The basic challenge in business process management is to find mechanisms whereby business executives, analysts, and subject matter experts can specify, in an intuitive yet concise way, the framework and specifics of how the operations of a business are to be conducted. The specification should make it easy to develop IT infrastructures to automate the operations as much as possible. It should also permit rich flexibility at two levels. First is the level of individual enactments of the business operations, to permit a high degree of customization of the services supported by the business. Second is the level of business operations models (or schemas), to permit highly flexible evolution of the model, and to permit the easy specification of generic models with numerous specializations (e.g., for different regions or different kinds of customers).

Most business process models are based on activity flows, and it is hard in these models to support the high flexibility needed for managing modern business operations. At IBM Watson and other IBM Research labs we have been working on a fundamentally different paradigm for business process management, which elevates the data managed by the process to the same level of importance as the activity flows. This approach focuses on augmented data records, known as "business artifacts" or simply "artifacts", that correspond to key business-relevant objects, their lifecycles, and how/when tasks are invoked on them. In general an artifact begins its life with only a few of its attributes defined, and then more attribute values are filled in (and possibly overwritten) as the artifact moves through its lifecycle. An underlying premise is that at any point in the processing, all business-relevant information about an artifact should be stored in the artifact; this might be achieved for example by using a state-machine based specification of how tasks are applied to artifacts, and explicitly storing the current state in the artifact. This premise implies that relevant information about an artifact is never "hidden" in the artifact's current position in an activity flow.

The artifact-centric approach provides a simple and robust structure for managing business operations, and has been demonstrated in practice to enable significant efficiencies in business transformation (that is, when performing an overhaul of the organization of the operations of some or all of a business). More generally, the artifact-centric approach substantially enriches communication between business operations stake-holders as compared with the communication enabled by traditional activity-flow based approaches. This is because the artifact-centric approach allows for the explicit specification of business-relevant semantic information (about artifact data types and their lifecycles) which cannot be specified easily in typical activity-flow based models. The team at Watson has already developed a substantial framework around the artifact-centric paradigm, including a toolkit for implementing artifact-centric business operations models that leverages existing IBM software products; a method for discovering, specifying, and implementing artifact-centric business operations models; and a light-weight prototype system for rapid design and deployment of artifact-centric business operations models.

For further information, please see the tabs on the right and left, or contact Rick Hull (hull at us dot ibm dot com).

Note: This page is under construction.

Last updated 1 May 2009