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Supporting the Requirement for Flexibility in Automated Business Processes using Intelligent Agents. Stewart Green University of the West of England. Presentation Structure. Purpose Intelligent agent Multi agent community Example: ADEPT

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supporting the requirement for flexibility in automated business processes using intelligent agents

Supporting the Requirement for Flexibility in Automated Business Processes using Intelligent Agents

Stewart Green

University of the West of England

presentation structure
Presentation Structure
  • Purpose
  • Intelligent agent
  • Multi agent community
  • Example: ADEPT
  • Example: ADEPT support for business process management
  • Flexibility using intelligent agents
  • Advantages and disadvantages of the agent approach
  • Discussion questions
  • References

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purpose
Purpose
  • Introduce intelligent agents (IA)
  • Lead into a discussion of the potential for intelligent agents to support flexibility in business process management systems (BPMS)
  • Explore the suitability of the IA approach as a topic for the next BPMDS workshop

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intelligent agent 1
Intelligent Agent (1)
  • “An agent is a computer system that is situated in some environment, and that is capable of autonomous action in this environment in order to meet its design objectives” (Wooldridge, 2002)
  • “The key problem facing an agent is that of deciding which of its actions it should perform in order to best satisfy its design objectives” (Wooldridge, 2002)

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multi agent community 1
Multi Agent Community (1)
  • “Multi agent systems…consist of a number of agents, which interact with each other, typically by exchanging messages through some computer network infrastructure” (Wooldridge, 2002)
  • “In the most general case, the agents in a multi agent system will be representing or acting on behalf of users or owners with very different goals and motivations” (Wooldridge, 2002)
  • Agents will also be linked by a variety of relationships, e.g. one agent may be the boss of another

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multi agent community 2
Multi Agent Community (2)
  • Agents may be required to:
    • Solve problems
    • Plan
    • Mutually cooperate
    • Mutually negotiate

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example adept 1
Example: ADEPT (1)
  • ADEPT: Advanced Decision Environment for Process Tasks
  • “the business process is viewed as a collection of autonomous problem solving entities [agents] that negotiate with one another and come to mutually acceptable agreements that coordinate their independent sub-activities” (Jennings et al., 2000)

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example adept 2
Example: ADEPT (2)
  • At a high-level ADEPT provides:
    • “a flexible and high level means of specifying services that gives the agents sufficient freedom to take alternative paths at runtime”
    • “a fast and efficient means of sharing information between agents with different data models”
    • “negotiation strategies and tactics that can be tailored to the provisioning task at hand”
    • “flexible mechanisms for scheduling and rescheduling problem-solving resources” (Jennings et al., 2000)

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example adept supports bpm 1
Example: ADEPT Supports BPM (1)
  • ADEPT was used to create a prototype to support the British Telecommunication plc process of providing a quote to a customer for installing a network to deliver a specified type of telecommunications service
  • This process involves 6 major business units, e.g. the Customer Services Division and the Network Design Division
  • Each business unit carries out process activities like capturing the details of customers and their requirements, designing networks, and costing networks

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example adept supports bpm 2
Example: ADEPT Supports BPM (2)
  • Design the agent system
    • Map processes to agents
      • One agent for each business unit
      • Individuals modelled as agent tasks
    • Identify peer and subordinate agents
      • Survey Team agent is subordinate to Network Design agent
      • All other agents are peers
    • Determine services provided by each agent
      • E.g. Customer Handling agent offers Provide_Customer_Quote service
    • Allocate tasks to support provisioning of services
      • E.g. Provide_Customer_Quote has tasks, e.g.:
        • Capture customer details
        • Capture customer requirements

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example adept supports bpm 3
Example: ADEPT supports BPM (3)
  • Implement the agent system
    • Specify services using Service Description Language (name, inputs, outputs, guard, and body for each service; and body allows services and tasks to be specified in sequence or in parallel (optional or mandatory))
  • Provide service
    • Agents use a communication protocol to negotiate with one another to provide services
    • The vehicle for negotiation is the Service Level Agreement (SLA); it records, e.g., agreed cost of service, quality of service, penalty for service failure…
    • E.g. The BT Customer Handling agent may negotiate with 3 external organisation Customer Vetting agents to obtain the best deal (w.r.t. time, cost,penalty) for vetting a customer

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flexibility using adept agents
Flexibility Using ADEPT Agents
  • Communication failure
    • If information sent between agents becomes corrupted, one agent detects and informs the other, which resends the message
  • Functional failure
    • If a single invocation of a task fails, the owning agent selects “another free and functionally equivalent resource (task), and invokes it”
  • Resource failure
    • If a resource problem occurs, e.g. someone is ill, the owning agent tries to reschedule tasks assigned to that resource
  • Service exception
    • If an agreed SLA is in danger of being violated, the owning agent attempts to renegotiate the SLA

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advantages of the agent approach
Advantages of the Agent Approach
  • Advantages (claimed): offers better support for:
    • “Managing business process enactment in an environment in which resources fluctuate at runtime”
    • “Handling exceptions in a context-dependent manner”
    • “Provisioning problem solving resources according to prevailing circumstances”
    • “Allowing loose coupling between interorganisational business activities”
    • “Enabling different parts of an organisation (and different organisations) to retain autonomy of information and control”

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disadvantages of the agent approach
Disadvantages of the Agent Approach
  • Disadvantages (identified to date)
    • It is “more difficult to obtain a coherent view of the entire business process, since its state is now distributed”
    • There is a “greater chance that the business process will fail to meet any overarching constraints placed upon its operation…because the business process is constructed through dynamic, on-the-fly agreements, rather than through preset routes”

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discussion questions
Discussion Questions
  • Which application domains may be particularly liable to benefit from a multi agent approach to support for BPM? Is supply chain management one of them?
  • Can all the problems recognised so far be resolved sufficiently to allow the approach to be viable?
  • Are there other significant problems with this approach?
  • Will the multi agent approach prove to be cost effective?
  • Who should be in charge, the agent or the human it represents? How is the border line determined?

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references
References
  • An Introduction to Multi Agent Systems, Wooldridge, M., John Wiley, 2002
  • Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, Russell, S., and Norvig, P., 2nd edition, Prentice Hall, 2003
  • Autonomous Agents for Business Process Management, Jennings, N. et al., Applied Artificial Intelligence, 14, pp 145 – 189, 2000
  • Implementing a Business Process Management System Using Adept: A Real-World Case Study, Jennings, N. et al. AAI, 14, pp 421 – 463, 2000

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