CoMo-Kit: Knowledge Based Workflow Management

Frank Maurer
AG Expertensysteme
Universität Kaiserslautern
Postfach 3049
D-67653 Kaiserslautern


In this paper we briefly describe the CoMo-Kit system which uses knowledge-based techniques to improve workflow management approaches by increasing the flexibility of the work process and by notifying the appropriate team members about changes.

Executive Summary

Descriptions of the work process are essential knowledge assets of an enterprise. They capture what is going on in the company and are a basis for continuous process improvements. Using these descriptions directly as input for a workflow engine, without the need to implement conventional software, allows to adapt a company's processes easily to a changing environment and changing market needs.
A process description shall consist of, at least, the tasks which must be carried out and references to the knowledge needed for every task.
The CoMo-Kit approach allows for describing processes by linking tasks with their inputs and outputs. Additionally, every task may contain references to world wide web locations storing knowledge needed for executing the task. By storing knowledge in Web pages, a company is able to provide a uniform and easy access to its knowledge. Furthermore, the company is able to manage knowledge by managing some Web sites. Updating knowledge is carried out by changing the contents of one Web site. Every person accessing this knowledge for performing a task always gets up to date information and needs not rely on old handbooks etc.
A problem with current workflow approaches is that the workflow description has to be created before the its execution starts. For large (engineering) projects, this is not feasible: A detailed project plan can only be defined incrementally on the fly" and must often be adapted during the project's lifetime. Changes happen! Therefore, a project support system has to be able to handle them.
The CoMo-Kit system uses dependency management techniques and notification mechanisms to enhance the flexibility of current workflow systems. A company may change its work processes at any time and the system informs the appropriate users about this changes.


On account to global competition, the efficiency of business processes has to be improved resulting in a reduction of time and money needed for the process. These business objectives lead to approaches as lean management and business process reengineering & optimization . Basically, the goal of these approaches is to define and implement efficient processes within a company. From that one can conclude that the knowledge about the business processes is one of the most important assets of a company . Knowledge about the processes is needed to fulfill the customers needs, to train new employees, and as a basis for improving the efficiency of the company. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary to manage this knowledge explicitly.
Workflow management approaches often are introduced in the enterprise to improve the processes. Thereby, workflow management is defined by the workflow management coalition as:

A basic problem with current workflow approaches is that:

Following their argumentation means that there is a (huge) human effort in mapping the abstract business model onto an operational and executable workflow language. Resulting from the human effort, there are development costs which can not be neglected. Hence, this approach basically is only applicable for repetitive, standardizable processes as, for example, administrative activities as the payment for traveling costs. AI techniques can be used to overcome this restriction by increasing the flexibility of workflow management .

The CoMo-Kit Approach

The global goal of our work is to develop methods, techniques and software systems which support the planning and execution of large-scale engineering projects. Our approach is applied to build systems in two design domains: Urban land-use planning and Software Engineering. Although we are particularly dealing with engineering, we assume that our techniques are applicable in all domains where flexible work processes have to be supported.
A closer look on our engineering applications showed that they can be characterized by the following features:

These features lead to certain requirements for process-supporting tools which are in the focus of our work:

Our Answers - An Overview

To address the mentioned problems, we integrate knowledge-based techniques with workflow management approaches. In this paper, we give a short overview on our approach. An on-line web demonstration and detailed descriptions can be found via the CoMo-Kit home page (CoMo-Kit 1997). (Dellen, Maurer, Pews 1997) gives a detailed description of our approach. (Maurer, Paulokat 1994) describes our initial approach to dependency management.

Explicit process & product models: Based on knowledge and software engineering approaches (Breuker, van de Velde 1994), (Bröckers, Lott, Rombach, Verlage 1995), (Verlage 1994), we developed an ontology which allows to describe work processes. The basic notions of this ontology are process models, methods, product models, parameters, and agents. Using these concepts, users are able to define a project plan.

Develop a workflow engine which interprets the process models: The basic approach of knowledge-based systems, is to distinguish between the knowledge about a domain and the interpreter (or problem-solving method) which uses it. We adopted this approach and developed an workflow engine which uses an explicit process & product model as input to support the execution of the project. The engine supports project coordination, e.g. by providing worklists for its users, and is used to exchange information between team members.

Generate dependencies between information based on the process model: Since change management is a must for engineering project support, we build a generic dependency theory into our workflow engine which automatically extracts dependencies from the process model. Based on these dependencies, our system is able to proactive send notifications to users who are effected by a change.

Allow to refine and extent the process model on the fly: Our system allows to alternate between planning and execution steps. This increased flexibility is based on our interpretative approach and the change propagation: Since the workflow engine sees" the current project plan only as data and not as program code, it is possible to change the plan on the fly. Then, the change propagation mechanisms are able to inform appropriate users about the change because it manages causal dependencies between processes and products. This leads, for example, to updated worklists or new inputs for a task.

CoMo-Kit System Architecture

To build our applications, we developed the CoMo-Kit system which defines an ontology for project planning and incorporates an interpreter for its operationalization.
Figure 1 shows the basic system architecture of CoMo-Kit. It consists of two main parts:

Figure 1: System Architecture

For a new development project, in a first step an initial project plan is created using the Modeler. For our application domains, we developed generic project models which are initial project plans.
This plan contains descriptions of the processes to be done, a definition of the product data structures which must be created during process execution and a list of the team members involved in the design process.
The current project plan is used by our Workflow Management System, the CoMo-Kit Scheduler, to support project execution. It interprets the plan information. It supports team members in their work by

Our approach incorporates several techniques known from AI: Building explicit domain models and interpreter for them is a basic AI approach. Truth maintenance systems and their extensions were developed in AI as well as rule-based techniques.


Our approach is applied to two design domains: Urban Land-Use Planning and Software Engineering, which will be introduced in this section.

Urban Land-Use Planning

In Germany, municipalities are responsible for determining and controlling the future development of the cities. One step in doing this, is to work out a legally binding land-use plan. This plan consists of textual stipulations and stipulations by drawing, which determine the type and degree of building and land use for areas within the municipality. For example, they might state that a certain area has to be a residential-only area (type of building and land use), or specify the maximum amount of storeys allowed and the heights of physical structures (degree of building and land use). Legally binding land-use planning is part of local legislation and therefore there are certain requirements for the process of planning as well as for the plan itself. The procedure of setting up a plan has to be traceable, and consistent with the law.
For this domain, we used our techniques to build a system which gives intelligent support to an urban planner. The IBP-System (Intelligenter Bebauungsplan - Intelligent Land-Use Plan) focuses on the process of transforming a first design study into the legally binding plan (Maurer, Pews 1996).
Setting up a plan might take several years time, during which participants and planners might change. Therefore it is extremely important for anybody working with this plan to keep in mind the dependencies and rationales for all stipulations. Moreover, there is a great benefit from pre-structuring the urban planning process, in order to make the process more efficient.
The IBP-Project is an interdisciplinary research project between three research groups in Computer Science, Environmental Planning and Jurisprudence. In two years` work, we set up a detailed model capturing the knowledge of the design process and the involved legal knowledge. Based on this, we built a support system for land-use planning which keeps track of the planning process and provides information filtering and tool (CAD, Geographic Information System/GIS) configuration for these planning tasks.

Process centered software development

In Software Engineering, the need for process engineering has become obvious. In order to improve the software process and the software itself, process modeling, project planning and management, change control, quality measurement and reuse have to be introduced. For this, several process centered software development systems to guide, reason about, control, and coordinate software processes have been developed.
Two characteristics of software processes that influence research in this area are their long duration where necessary changes occur, and the large contingent of creative processes, which cannot be automated. Therefore, computer based project planning and enactment support has to be flexible and to leave room for situation dependent decisions by the user. The methods and techniques of our approach provide solutions for computer based software process support, with respect to both characteristics.


Most of the work reported in this short summary was carried out in collaboration between Barbara Dellen, Gerd Pews and me. I want to thank them for their contributions to our CoMo-Kit project. The system was implemented by many of our students. Without their work, the prove of concept would not be feasible.


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