Pattern-Based Specification of Crowdsourcing Applications – ICWE 2014 best paper

I’m really proud to announce that our paper “Pattern-Based Specification of Crowdsourcing Applications” has received the BEST PAPER award at ICWE 2014 (International Conference on Web Engineering), held in Toulouse in July 2014. The paper was authored by Alessandro Bozzon, Marco Brambilla, Stefano Ceri, Andrea Mauri, and Riccardo Volonterio.

The work addresses the fact that in many crowd-based applications, the interaction with performers is decomposed in several tasks that, collectively, produce the desired results.
A number of emerging crowd-based applications cover very different scenarios, including opinion mining, multimedia data annotation, localised information gathering, marketing campaigns, expert response gathering, and so on.
In most of these scenarios, applications can be decomposed in tasks that collectively produce their results; Tasks interactions give rise to arbitrarily complex workflows.

In this paper we propose methods and tools for designing crowd-based workflows as interacting tasks.
We describe the modelling concepts that are useful in such framework, including typical workflow patterns, whose function is to decompose a cognitively complex task into simple interacting tasks so that the complex task is co-operatively solved.
We then discuss how workflows and patterns are managed by CrowdSearcher, a system for designing, deploying and monitoring applications on top of crowd-based systems, including social networks and crowdsourcing platforms. Tasks performed by humans consist of simple operations which apply to homogeneous objects; the complexity of aggregating and interpreting task results is embodied within the framework. We show our approach at work on a validation scenario and we report quantitative findings, which highlight the effect of workflow design on the final results.

Here are the slides presented by Alessandro Bozzon during the ICWE conference:

 

Here is Alessandro Bozzon presenting:

and here is the picture of the actual award:

ICWE 2014 Best Paper Award Certificate to Pattern-Based Specification of Crowdsourcing Applications. Bozzon, Brambilla, Ceri, Mauri, Volonterio

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Personal process management: the overlooked side of BPM

Being quite involved both in the BPM field and in social networking, personal productivity tools, and Web application design, I’m always appalled when I think about how many findings and practices designed for businesses could benefit our everyday life too.
One specific example of this is about the BPM practices and their potential added value for end users.
With the advent of Web 2.0 and online social interactions, people started sharing thoughts, contents and tasks online. This evolved to cover also socialization of task management, which is currently supported by a plethora of online services directed to the final user (for instance, see: RememberTheMilk or Astrid).
First, I tried to build a list of features they cover, and that’s what I obtained:

As you see, they all provide plenty of features, with some diversification among each other. However, all these tools share a common weakness: they don’t provide any way for structuring the interactions, dependencies or constraints between tasks.

Based on this consideration, I thought about a vision towards the application of BPM techniques and tools to personal task management. The challenge of this is finding the appropriate level of complexity of processes: obviously one cannot expose the full complexity of BP modeling languages to end users. The language for modeling such processes should be complete enough for describing basic processes but also simple enough to let people understand, accept and use them in their everyday life. Therefore, I’m proposing to strip off some of the expressive power of enterprise business processes, so as to accommodate end user needs and acceptance.

I presented a paper at the BPMS2 workshop on Business Process Management and Social Software at the BPM conference on this. The slides are available on slideshare and reported below.
If you are interested, you can read the full paper here (scroll to the bottom of the page and download the PDF).

To my understanding neither the commercial tool nor the academic community (except for some work done by Michael Rosemann, reflected only in a one-year-old short post) is addressing the issue.
Feel free to comment and propose extensions or changes! This is just a first attempt in the direction of personal process management (but already supported by a prototype implementation, see the video attached to the slides or available on youTube!).

A demonstration video of our tool is on YouTube:

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My blogging activity on BPM

I recently commented/ interacted with several people in the Business Process Management (BPM) online community. I’ll try to recap here all my recent contributions in this and the next few posts (just as a way for me not to forget about them):

Choosing the first process to implement (Adam Deane blog, 22/9/2010)

I basically agree with the post: the approval processes are the Hello World! examples for BPM (and are the most used in teaching, in fact): easy to understand, design and demonstrate.. and can quickly gather consensus among the stakeholders.
Not so sure about tasks that are poorly defined: understanding can be different between the people (also within the customer enterprise)and could lead to delays and fights between the roles (our experience). How to deal with this?

The BPM sweetspot (Adam Deane blog, 6/10/2010)
I fully share the view of this post.
I would also add another reaction by customers when they finally see the running process execution:
– WOW! look at that. Nice form, nice dashboard! Hey, wait a minute! Why do you have an input field for time with “:” instead of “.” as a separator? Mmm, and why this form is missing all the 27 fields we actually need for our credit card request management?
My point is: yes, execution is more intriguing, but it also leads to identifying process issues and problems. Most of them are absolutely useless (especially when you are doing a demo!).
But when you come to build real apps, you can also get feedback like:
– Look, you missed an activity (or a dependency) here. And these two should be switched.
– Well, this is interesting (would say the BP analyst). But wait, why you didn’t point it out when we discussed the models?
– Welllll, basically I didn’t notice.
My bottom line: execution is not just the sexiest thing, sometimes is also the most useful for interacting with the customer (even if you are an analyst).

Who is a business user? (Adam Deane blog, 23/10/2010)

I agree BPMN should not be blamed.
On the topic at large, let me point to my comment to another of your nice posts: “The BPM sweetspot” (http://adamdeane.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/the-bpm-sweetspot/).
My thesis is: it’s good to have business process models, to have a notation, to standardize it, to make people (analysts and experts) use it.
But I’m fully with you: you cannot expect ALL the kinds of users to adopt it.
I think each user needs the right tool. For some it can be BPMN (full), for some it can be a simplified notation, but for some (typically the end users) it must even be a running prototype of the application. In our experience this let us identify a lot of process issues that no customer ever spotted in the BP models (although in principle they were able to understand the notation).

Following the rules (BPMS Watch, Bruce Silver blog,  5/10/2010)
Dear Bruce,
I really appreciate your work in education and consolidation of BPMN (I read your book and I read with much interest also your recent online decalogue for BPMN design).
I have mixed feelings on the target users of BPMN: business users can for sure understand and design BP diagrams (if we assume usage of a “baseline” version of BPMN), but as you (and the other comments) abundantly demonstrate, it’s already a big challenge to end up with a reasonably well-formed and sense-making model.
However, this is only the first step.
The actual challenge would be to get value from these models: models should help improving processes, identifying requirement mistakes or other issues, possibly automatically executing/prototyping processes, and effectively documenting.
The question is: given the difficulty to reach the first objective (correctness), do you expect that the actual value will ever be achieved?
Our experience is that BPMN models are of huge value for process designers and engineers, but when it comes to getting feedback from the stakeholders (business users,…) nothing worked better than interacting upon running prototypes.
We recorded precise measures of our activities and productivity.
The good news was that we were able to automatically generate such prototype from BPMN and thus achieve quick redesign cycles.
(we presented our experience at BPM 2010, Hoboken, NJ too)