TOWARDS A FLEXIBLE BUSINESS PROCESS MODELING AND SIMULATION ENVIRONMENT
IBM China Research Laboratory
Building 19 Zhongguancun Software Park, 8 Dongbeiwang WestRoad,
Haidian District, Beijing 100193, P. R. CHINA
Business process is crucial to the success of any business.
Business process modeling enables a common understand-
ing and analysis of a business process, and simulation is an
effective way to diagnose and evaluate complex business
processes. There are lots of software tools in market for
business process modeling and simulation, however, a
common issue for these tools is the conflict between usabil-
ity and flexibility. The improvement of usability often
means the reduction of flexibility. This paper introduces an
IBM asset named Supply Chain Process Modeler (SCPM),
which aims at providing a tailored business process model-
ing and simulation environment for business users. SCPM
tries to achieve a better trade-off between usability and flex-
ibility with two major efforts, a process repository for proc-
ess modeling, and a flexible environment for process simu-
lation. A case study from real consulting practice is also
included to illustrate how SCPM works for business process
There is no doubt that business process plays a very impor-
tant role in running a business. A healthy business process
is the foundation of the success of an organization. The re-
alization of all strategic objectives has to rely on business
processes to achieve. Based on the result of a recent CIO
survey, “streamline or optimize business processes” is the
top business priority of executives (see Figure 1). In order
to achieve process excellence, people carry on various
process improvement initiatives, such as business process
reengineering (BPR) and business process management
(BPM), which have become the hottest terms nowadays.
Figure 1: CIO business priorities (InformationWeek 2004)
No matter which process improvement initiative people
want to conduct, they have to understand the business proc-
esses and perform necessary analyses to design or redesign
the processes. Business process modeling enables a com-
mon understanding and analysis of a business process,
while computer simulation is an effective technology to di-
agnose business processes, especially when complexity and
scope become issues. Often, as existing processes are mod-
eled and simulated, complex relationships and behaviors are
exposed and evaluated.
There are a lot of commercial-off-the-shell (COTS)
tools available for business process modeling and simula-
tion, however, despite the increasingly enhanced functional-
ities, there are still some obstacles in widely using these
tools. The common issue is the conflict between usability
and flexibility. Typically, the more flexible functionalities a
tool intends to provide, the more difficult to use the tool
will be. Moreover, most of these tools are for general pur-
pose, and targets a very wide range of user groups, includ-
ing strategy consultants, business analysts, process special-
ists, IT architects, software developers, etc. Both business
and IT organizations need manipulate business processes,
however, they focus on different facets of business proc-
esses and talk with different languages, thus they have dif-
1694 978-1-4244-2708-6/08/$25.00 ©2008 IEEE
Proceedings of the 2008 Winter Simulation Conference
S. J. Mason, R. R. Hill, L. Mönch, O. Rose, T. Jefferson, J. W. Fowler eds.
Ren et al.
ferent manners and preferences in using the tools. It is hard
for a strategy consultant to play with things like software
configurations. These general-purpose tools cover more
user groups, but for the specific users, such as business con-
sultants, they do not take special care.
This paper will introduce an effort in IBM Research
division named Supply Chain Process Modeler (SCPM),
which aims at providing a tailored business process model-
ing and simulation environment right for business users.
We believe a good business process equals to the rational
process flows plus appropriate decision rules within the
process, so SCPM mainly focuses on these two aspects. In
order to support building rational process flows, we develop
a business process model repository that includes a lot of
reference models, industry standards, and best practices,
which serve as the template of business process modeling.
We also provide a flexible process simulation environment
that enables the users to conduct simulation at different lev-
el of complexity with different efforts, which is effective in
supporting the design of both rational process flows and
appropriate decision rules.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows. At
first, a literature review on related topics including business
process models, business process simulation, and business
process modeling and simulation tools, is performed in Sec-
tion 2. Then in Section 3, we present the technical details of
SCPM, which focuses on two main modules, the business
process model repository, and the scripts-based simulation
mechanism. A case study is briefly introduced in Section 4
to illustrate how SCPM works in business process simula-
tion. Finally, in Section 5, we conclude with some closing
2 LITERATURE REVIEW
A variety of definitions of business process are available in
the literature (Davenport and Short 1990, Hammer and
Champy 1993). Hammer and Champy (1993) defined a
business process as “a collection of activities that takes one
or more kinds of input and creates an output that is of value
to the customer”. Quality and efficiency of business proc-
esses have a significant effect on turnover and profit, and
thus the long-term success of a company. For the imple-
mentation of the business strategy, a company therefore re-
quires, along with flexibility in its business processes, a
high level of innovation and the ability to transfer process
optimizations and innovations from management concepts
to the world of IT systems. Business applications only be-
come business solutions with efficient process configura-
tion. The added value of the company’s IT and IT-related
investments are realized through the support of its processes.
Business process management (BPM) is the concept of
achieving business innovation and optimization by imple-
menting business strategy through modeling, developing,
deploying and managing business processes throughout
their entire lifecycle (Wahli et al. 2006). BPM combines
business processes, information, and IT resources, aligns an
organization's core assets (people, information, technology,
and processes) to create a single integrated view, with real-
time intelligence of both its business measurements and IT
system performance. There are typically four major steps in
a BPM lifecycle, i.e., model, assemble, deploy, and manage,
But in this paper, we just focus on the first step – model,
which is to capture, simulate, analyze and optimize business
process models to reduce risk and increase flexibility.
Business Process Models
Organizations have various objectives for modeling busi-
ness processes, such as modeling for compliance or docu-
mentation (such as legal, regulatory, training, etc.), model-
ing for process redesign, and modeling for execution. No
matter which purpose the modeling is for, the output would
be business process models in certain format. An appropri-
ate business process model is the prerequisite of effective
business process management, thus it is necessary to follow
some business process modeling standards, such as (Wang
et al. 2006),
BPMN – Business Process Modeling Notation
(BPMN) is a standardized graphical notation for
modeling business processes. The notation is
strongly IT-oriented, which is maintained by Ob-
ject Management Group (OMG).
BPEL4WS – Business Process Execution Lan-
guage for Web Services (BPEL4WS) is a technical
standard used to describe executable process mod-
els based on Web Services.
WSDL – Web Services Description Language
(WSDL) is an XML-based standard for describing
Web Services interfaces.
EPC – Event-driven Process Chains (EPCs) are a
leading standard for modeling business processes,
which was developed within the ARIS framework
by Dr. Scheer.
XPDL – XML Process Definition Language
(XPDL) is a process definition language proposed
by Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC),
which defines a common interchange format sup-
porting the transfer of process definition between
UML – Unified Modeling Language (UML) is a
leading standardized specification language for ob-
ject modeling in the software engineering domain
Besides the above standards, there are also many other
business process modeling methods, such as Petri Net,
IDEF0 and IDEF3, etc. Among these standards, BPMN and
EPC are originally designed for business process modeling,
BPEL4WS, WSDL, XPDL, and IDEF0/IDEL3 are general-
purpose process modeling methods, but they can support
Ren et al.
business process modeling, while UML and Petri Net are
designed for other purposes, but they can be leveraged to be
used in business process modeling.
These standards focus on different aspects of business
process management, e.g., BPMN and EPC are designed for
the logical and visual representation of processes, while
BPEL4WS, WSDL and XPDL are more execution-oriented.
People should determine to follow different standards and
model at different level of granularity based on real re-
Business Process Simulation
In order to design, redesign, understand and improve busi-
ness processes, people are using various methods and tech-
niques. Figure 2 classifies these techniques into three cate-
gories based on the popularity and complexity.
Figure 2: Classification of business process modeling and
We have to admit the fact that most of current business
process initiatives are doing the “diagramming” jobs, which
focus on business process mapping with limited analyses.
Some projects consider also process data, and conduct some
analyses to diagnose and design business processes. The
advanced techniques such as simulation and optimization
are not widely used in practice, which is partly limited by
the time, cost, requirement and user skills. In order to un-
derstand the requirements of people engaged in business
process simulation, Melao and Pidd (2003) conducted a
survey among potential business process simulation users.
The survey revealed a low usage of simulation in the design,
modification and improvement of business processes. It
confirms that business process simulation projects are typi-
cally short, relatively non-technical, and rely on good pro-
ject management for their success.
But under complex business scenarios, dynamic simu-
lation is the only technique that enables users to accurately
model, analyse, visualise, quantify and verify dynamic sys-
tem behaviour and performance over time, evaluate effects
of variability, variance, stochastic processes such as break-
downs, random failures, etc., and study complex interac-
tions and interdependencies between processes and re-
sources, operational rules, and logical constraints.
By introducing dynamic parameters (such as times,
volumes, capacities and quality) of the process, simulation
fundamentally enhances process performance analysis. It
provides a much better picture of bottlenecks, hand-over
times and dynamic performance than a static analysis (such
as by flow charts). Investigations and analyses necessary to
build the simulation model improve the knowledge about
the process itself, which leads to valuable ideas for future
process design. Any envisaged changes in process design
can then be anticipated and evaluated by simulation. Thus
experimental results significantly contribute to the decisions
about future process design. Business process simulation
can also increase the acceptance of redesign solutions.
Graphical animation communicates what is going to change.
Simulation experiments explain why change happens, i.e.
which kinds of improvement are achieved by the redesign
(Aguilar et al. 1999).
From the technology point of view, there are two
methods for business process simulation, i.e., system analy-
sis (continuous and discrete simulations based on mathe-
matical models and numerical methods) and discrete event
simulation (DES) based on an event-handling method. Sys-
tem analysis-based simulation is mostly associated with
academic studies, while DES is easily driven by the events
that are generated in a business process, thus it is widely
used in business process simulation tools.
Business Process Modeling and Simulation
A lot of COTS tools are available for business process
modeling and simulation. A majority of these tools have an
origin in a variety of process mapping tools that provide the
user with a static view of the processes being studied, but
some of them are also able to show a dynamic change in
business processes and evaluate the stochastic events and
random behavior of resources.
Typically, the software tools that may be applicable for
business process modelling and simulation can be classified
into two main categories: general purpose DES tools and
business process modelling tools (Bosilj-Vuksic et al. 2007).
Nowadays, typical general purpose DES tools provide the
following functions (Pidd and Carvalho 2006),
Modeling tools: a graphical modeling environment,
built-in simulation objects with defined properties
and behaviour, sampling routines, property sheets
and visual controls.
Tools to execute the simulation: a simulation con-
troller to run a model, animated graphic, virtual re-
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ality representation and user interaction with the
simulation as it runs.
Tools to support experiment: define run lengths
and parameters, enable optimization, results inter-
pretation and presentation.
Links to other software (spreadsheets, databases,
ERP systems, etc.).
In order to evaluate various business process modeling
and simulation tools, Bosilj-Vuksic et al. (2007) proposed a
evaluation framework, in which the criteria was classified
into four main groups as below,
Hardware and software considerations: coding as-
pects, software compatibility, user support, finan-
cial and technical features, pedigree.
Modeling capabilities: general features, modeling
Simulation capabilities: visual aspects, efficiency,
testability, experimentation facilities, statistical fa-
Input/Output issues: input and output capabilities,
Hall and Harmon (2006) conducted a detailed analysis
of business process modeling and simulation tools, which
includes most of the mainstream products, such as IDS
Scheer's ARIS, IBM's WebSphere Business Modeler, Pro-
forma Corporation's ProVision, iGrafx's iGrafx, MEGA's
MEGA Suite, BOC's ADONIS, CACI's SIMPROCESS, etc.
Readers can refer to the report for more details about the
evaluation of different COTS tools.
IBM WebSphere Business Modeler (WBM) is a busi-
ness process modeling and analysis tool that enables users
to model, design, simulate, analyze and generate reports for
business processes, integrate new and revised process, and
define organizations, resources and business items. (Wahli
et al. 2006). IBM WBM is a critical component of IBM’s
BPM Suite, and it is also used as the foundation for our
3 SUPPLY CHAIN PROCESS MODELER (SCPM)
Like other leading business process modeling and simula-
tion tools, IBM WBM provides powerful and friendly
enough modeling and analysis capabilities. However, posi-
tioned as a general purpose tool, it has to cover both busi-
ness and technical users, thus it can hardly consider some
special requirements from special user groups. Moreover, as
a commercial software product, it has to control the usabil-
ity to certain extent so as to shorten the learning cycle,
which limits the flexibility of the tool.
As a major user group of business process modeling
and simulation tools, business consultants have their special
requirements. First of all, from a business consultant’s point
of view, the main challenge of process modeling is not the
tool itself, but how to abstract business processes from real
world business operations, i.e., the difficulty mainly lies in
the process of understanding specific business processes
and expressing them in a logical way, while not the con-
crete expression modes. Secondly, consultants may encoun-
ter various processes and scenarios, so they need model dif-
ferent logics when running simulation, which requires the
flexibility of simulation modeling. Moreover, the main ob-
jective of consultants is to deliver process modeling and
simulation results to clients, so they have some special re-
quirements for project delivery, such as customized docu-
Basically, SCPM is an WBM add-on to provide tai-
lored business process modeling and simulation environ-
ment for business consultants. In order to overcome the
modeling difficulty, we build a business process model re-
pository with a collection of reference models, industry best
practices, project references and models for packaged ap-
plications (such as SAP), which is the good foundation for a
quick and effective business process modeling from scratch.
For the simulation flexibility, we extend the WBM simula-
tion engine and allow users to write simulation scripts so
that enables the flexible modeling of much more simulation
logics. Moreover, SCPM also provides tailored features
such as generating customized reports that can be used for
project delivery, step-by-step modeling wizard to ease the
modeling process, etc.
Figure 3 gives a brief architecture of SCPM.
Figure 3: SCPM architecture
From the software technology point of view, SCPM
seamlessly “plugs in” the WBM platform. WBM is built on
Eclipse, which is an open source platform to build Inte-
grated Development Environment (IDE) and applications.
The universal and open development framework enables the
seamless integration and easy extensibility of SCPM. This
represents our basic idea of how we balance the usability
and flexibility of business process modeling and simulation
tools. We think it is necessary to keep a general purpose
Ren et al.
software with common functionalities, while leaving the
special support as software add-ons, which can be easily
and seamlessly integrated with the general tool. Certainly,
the open software architecture is the foundation to realize
such an idea.
In the following subsections, we will introduce the
business process model repository and extended simulator
Business Process Model Repository
Business process modeling is often time-consuming and
sometimes involves a certain amount of redundant work be-
cause of the similarity between modeling objects. Domain
knowledge is crucial to an effective business process mod-
eling, so it is in urgent need to make a better use of previous
models and/or reference models to support the business
process description and design. In order to deal with these
challenges, SCPM provides a business process model re-
pository to store, manage, and accumulate knowledge on
business process modeling.
Figure 4: Business process model repository
The reference models in the repository are organized
by three levels: generic, partial and particular (see Figure
4). Generic reference model repository stores standardized
cross-industry models provided by international industrial
organizations such as the SCOR (Supply Chain Operations
Reference) model (SCC 2008) and APQC PCF (American
Productivity and Quality Center Process Classification
Framework) (APQC 2008), particular reference model re-
pository stores particular business process models ab-
stracted from real projects, while partial reference model
repository is located between generic and particular level
which stores models covering certain particular industries.
The model repository also includes various industry
best practices, including typical business processes, input
and output logics, organizations, roles, resource and data
definitions, performance measures, and benchmarks. The
knowledge accumulation and management mechanism en-
ables a continuous self-improvement of the repository.
Extended Business Process Simulator
WBM provides a powerful and industry-neutral business
process simulation engine, based on which analysts are able
to estimate resource allocation, total processing time,
cost/revenue caused by tasks, etc. However, since it is for
general purpose, it is not easy to model complex simulation
logics outside basic WBM functionalities. In order to make
it flexible, a simulation scripts mechanism is developed in
SCPM. Figure 5 depicts the architecture of the scripts-based
Figure 5: Scripts-based business process simulation
The simulation scripts are very like standard Java lan-
guage. Users can write simulation scripts for process ele-
ments, including process steps and decision branches. The
below six basic types of scripts are supported,
Pre-Process scripts will be executed as soon as the
process/task is activated.
Post-Process scripts will be executed at the end of
the process/task (after delay time).
Delay scripts define the delay time for the proc-
Cost scripts define the cost for the process/task.
Revenue scripts define the revenue for the proc-
Duration scripts define the duration for the proc-
When instances of process elements are created and
executed during a standard WBM simulation, the scripts at-
tached are evaluated accordingly. Scripts here could be used
to initialize a simulation run, to set task attributes, such as
processing time, cost, revenue, resource allocation, and to
set complex decision rules for a decision node. The scripts
can also be used to access details of the process simulation
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engine and token-flow, and even be used to invoke external
components, such as the optimization engines and libraries,
which makes the simulator highly extensible. In addition,
SCPM can also create customized text or graphical outputs
on monitor panels.
Although basic coding skills are needed to use SCPM
extended simulator in a programming way, it provides great
flexibility to business consultants. They can model complex
logics and define execution flow for special purposes as
4 CASE STUDY
Having been accepted as a standard business process mod-
eling and simulation tool by IBM Global Business Services
(GBS) division, SCPM has been widely used in a lot of real
practices for business process modeling and simulation in
various industries, such as high-tech manufacturing, auto-
motive, steel, chemical, insurance, etc. Through the prac-
tices, we have built up business process templates for 17
typical industries in the business process model repository.
Due to the space limitation, we just briefly introduce a typi-
cal case, where SCPM has been used as the major support-
ing tool for business process simulation.
The client is a large steel maker in Asia, and the project
is among a big supply chain transformation initiative which
includes strategy formation, process design, and IT system
implementation. SCPM was chosen as the business process
modeling and simulation tool. Besides the business process
modeling, a key problem in the project is to improve the
steel-melting shop (S.M.S.) process. Figure 6 illustrates a
general S.M.S. process.
Figure 6: The S.M.S. process
In this project, the client has 2 EAFs, 3 LRFs, 1 VD, 1
RH, and 3 Casters. The EAFs release heat every 48 minutes,
and then the heats go into LRFs for refining. Based on the
products to be casted, the LRFs have two different process-
ing time, i.e., 60 minutes for VD/RH heats, and 40 minutes
for non VD/RH heats. The VD/RH heats will enter VD or
RH for degassing before going to casters, while the non
VD/RH heats will directly enter casters for casting. Each of
the 3 casters can cast several products (non-overlapped),
and the casting time depends on the product type. There are
two heat decisions along with the S.M.S. process, one is
choosing LRFs, and the other is choosing casters. Basically
the path of a heat in the process is determined by the prod-
uct it will be used to cast, so given the product to be pro-
duced, the caster selection is not a problem. The LRF selec-
tion is currently done manually based on experiences, and a
basic rule is to balance the workload of all the 3 LRFs. So
the key problem is to determine which product to produce
for each heat, because different production sequence may
lead to different production cycle time and thus different
throughput. The main objective of the project is to find a
near optimal policy for heat sequence decision to maximize
the throughput of the S.M.S. process.
The heat decision policy is embodied in the heat se-
quence when the production plan is confirmed, so from the
simulation modeling’s point of view, this study is to simu-
late the heat flow in the S.M.S. process and evaluate the
throughput of the shop given some specific heat sequences.
In order to build the simulation model, there are some spe-
cial requirements which can not be realized by standard
modeling logics in WBM (and in most of the COTS busi-
ness process modeling and simulation tools), such as,
Modeling complex decision rules
For example, in the LRF decision, we need to model
the decision rules like “If a heat has been processed at any
LRF for more than 20 minutes, then plan the next heat for
Modeling complex logics
The caster needs to change its mould after casting sev-
eral heats, or changing different products. So there is a
changeover time occurred for a caster when 1) the caster
has continuously casted a certain number heats, or 2) the
caster has a production switch. This logic is very hard to
Manipulating files during simulation
Since the simulation is triggered by a given heat se-
quence, so it requires to import the heat sequence from the
file (.txt, .csv, or .xls) which contains such information.
Moreover, some simulation results also need to be exported
to data files.
The scripts mechanism in SCPM enables to solve the
above issues. Firstly, we model the basic S.M.S. flow with
WBM as shown in Figure 7.
Figure 7: The S.M.S. process in WBM
Ren et al.
Then we write scripts to realize the special logics listed
above. Figure 8 shows how to express the changeover logic
for a caster. There is a scripts view in SCPM to allow users
edit simulation scripts.
Figure 8: Simulation scripts for caster changeover
It is easy and very flexible to use the scripts mechanism,
which is just like programming with Java. Figure 9 gives an
example of how to read the heat sequence information from
a file (heat.csv) as the input for the simulation run.
Figure 9: Simulation scripts for reading a file
By running simulation with different scenarios, we eva-
luate different heat decision policies and then give sugges-
tions to the clients. Since including this case here is more
intended to illustrate how to use SCPM in simulation mod-
eling, while not to explain the detailed results of the study,
so we ignore the numerical results.
This paper introduces an IBM asset SCPM, which provides
a tailored business process modeling and simulation envi-
ronment for business consultants. This effort represents a
viewpoint how we try to achieve a better trade-off between
usability and flexibility of a business process tool. This tool
has already been verified and enhanced through a lot of real
This paper is intended to describe the basic design idea
and main framework of SCPM, rather than elaborate all
technical details for the limitation of space. Moreover, its
contributions would be tested in further practices with nec-
ally in the process transformation project. It can be used to
analyze state maps and quantify proposed process transfor-
mations. But unfortunately, in practices simulation technol-
ogy was not used much despite the apparent benefits of it.
Surveys also verify that the data and static process model-
ing features of software tools were most widely used in
practice, whereas the dynamic process modeling features
were less frequently used. We think this is partially caused
by the fact that in practice the improvement to a business
process is either obvious or too hard to accurately model.
Moreover, compressed project time frames are also a cause
of little use of simulation modeling.
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CHANGRUI REN is a Researcher at IBM China Research
Laboratory. He joined IBM Research in 2005 after receiv-
ing his Ph.D. degree in Control Science and Engineering
from Tsinghua University in Beijing, P. R. China. His re-
search interests include business process management, sup-
ply chain management, and performance management. His
e-mail address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
WEI WANG is a Researcher at IBM China Research Labo-
ratory. He joined IBM Research in 2005 after receiving his
master degree in Control Science and Engineering from
Tsinghua University in Beijing, P. R. China. Currently, his
research interests include supply chain simulation and op-
timization, and business process management. His e-mail
address is <email@example.com>.
JIN DONG is the Manager of Supply Chain Management
and Logistics Research in IBM China Research Laboratory.
He received his Ph.D. degree in Tsinghua University from
P.R. China in 2001. Before joined IBM, he was the Re-
search Assistant Professor in Industrial Engineering De-
partment of Arizona State University in USA. His e-mail
address is <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
HONGWEI DING is a Researcher at IBM China Research
Laboratory. He received his Ph.D. in Automation from
INRIA (French National Institute of Computer Science &
Control), France. Before joined IBM, he was a researcher at
INRIA. His research interests include supply chain model-
ing, optimization and simulation. His e-mail address is
BING SHAO has been working at IBM China Research
Laboratory since 2006. His major interests include research
and software development in supply chain management and
business process management. His e-mail address is
QINHUA WANG is a Researcher at IBM China Research
Laboratory. She joined IBM Research in 2007 after receiv-
ing her M.S degree in Industrial Engineering from Tsinghua
University in Beijing, P. R. China. Her research interests
include supply chain management, business process man-
agement and enterprise resource planning system. Her
email address is <email@example.com>.