The PIF Process Interchange Format and
The PIF Process Interchange Format and
Jintae Lee, Gregg Yost and the PIF Working Group
December 22, 1994
Table of Contents
3. History and current status
5. Alphabetic Class Reference
6. Extending PIF
7. Appendix A: PIF Syntax
8. Appendix B: An Example PIF File
More and more companies today are attempting to improve their business by
engaging in some form of business process redesign (BPR). BPR focuses on a
"process view" of a business and attempts to identify and describe an
organization's business processes; evaluate the processes to identify problem
areas; select or design new processes, possibly radically different from those
currently in place; predict the effects of proposed process changes; define
additional processes that will allow the organization to more readily measure
its own effectiveness; and enact, manage and monitor the new processes. The
goal is a leaner, more effective organization that has better insight into how
it does business and how its business processes affect the organization's
health. Successful BPR projects involve the cooperation of many people over
extended time periods, including workplace analysts, systems engineers, and
workers at all levels of the organization.
Computer applications that support one or more aspects of BPR are becoming
increasingly common. Such applications include
No single application supports all aspects of a BPR engagement, nor is it
likely that such an application will ever exist. Furthermore, applications
that do support more than one aspect rarely do them all well. For example, a
workflow tool may also provide some process simulation capabilities, but those
additional capabilities are unlikely to be on par with the best dedicated
simulation applications. This is to be expected -- building an application
that supports even one of these aspects well requires a great deal of
specialized knowledge and experience.
- Modeling tools that help a workplace analyst identify and describe an
- Process library browsers that help organizations find new processes that
might better meet their needs.
- Process animators and simulators that help organizations visualize the
effects of existing processes or potential new processes.
- Workflow management tools that help workers follow business processes.
- Outcomes analysis tools that help organizations monitor the effectiveness of
Ideally, then, a BPR team would be able to pick a set of BPR-support
applications that best suits their needs: a process modeling tool from one
vendor, a simulator from another, a workflow manager from another, and so
forth. Unfortunately, these applications currently have no way to
interoperate. Each application typically has its own process representation
(often undocumented), and many applications do not provide interfaces that
would allow them to be easily integrated with other tools.
Our goal with the PIF project is to support the exchange of business process
descriptions among different process representations. The PIF project supports
sharing process descriptions through a description format called PIF
(Process Interchange Format) that provides a bridge across different
process representations. Tools interoperate by translating between their
native format and PIF.
Any process description format, including PIF, is unlikely to ever completely
suit the needs of all applications that make use of business process
descriptions. Therefore, in addition to the PIF format, we have defined a
framework around PIF that accommodates extensions to the standard PIF
description classes. The framework includes a translation scheme called
Partially Shared Views that attempts to maximize information sharing
among groups that have extended PIF in different ways.
The PIF framework aims to support process translation such that:
- Process descriptions can be automatically translated back and forth between
PIF and other process representations with as little loss of meaning as
possible. If translation cannot be done fully automatically, the human efforts
needed to assist the translation should be minimized.
- If a translator cannot translate part of a PIF process description to its
target format, it should:
- Translate as much of the description as possible (and not, for example,
simply issue an error message and give up)
- Represent any untranslatable parts in a way that lets a person understand the
problem and complete the translation manually if desired
- Preserve any uninterpretable parts so that the translator can add them back
to the process description when it is translated back into PIF.
These requirements on the translators are very important. We believe that a
completely standardized process description format is premature and unrealistic
at this point. Therefore, as mentioned earlier, we have provided ways for
groups to extend PIF to better meet their individual needs. As a result, we
expect that PIF translators will often encounter process descriptions written
in PIF variants that they can only partially interpret. Translators must adopt
conventions that ensure that items they cannot interpret are available for
human inspection and are preserved for later use by other tools that are
able to interpret them. Section 4 describes PIF's Partially Shared Views
translation scheme, which we believe will greatly increase the degree to which
PIF process descriptions can be shared.
3. History and Current Status