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  Flows — Concepts and terms

Concepts and terms

A flow describes a business process. One representation of a flow is a network of shapes and connectors (directed arrows), each with associated parameters and values. Flows govern:

Flows are the fundamental rule instances that represent business processes, identifying who works on a work item in what sequence, what decisions and processing occur automatically, and many other aspects of the business process.

Some applications don't require users to interact with user forms. Flows that implement straight-through-processing operate without user input. External portals and systems can execute flows through Active Server Pages, JavaServer Pages, Service Portlet or Service JSR94 rules, or other means. Informally, these are known as "headless" BPM applications. A collection of standard activities, flows, and flow actions known as the Process API simplifies building such applications.

Runtime processing — The simple case

At runtime, a user can start the execution of a flow by entering a new work item. The system examines the property pyFlowName, in the data transform instance for the class, to determine which flow to start. The flow operates on the work item to advance it through the business process that the flow implements, performing automated steps automatically, or creating assignments for users as appropriate.

You can think of a work item as located "on" one shape or arrow of the flow at any one instant, until the work item becomes resolved or the flow ends. Alternatively, you can think of the flow operating on the data (properties) in the work item until the flow finishes or the work item becomes resolved. Both points of view are correct.

A flow may define many optional detours, side trips, and branches reflecting decisions reached along the way. The path that one work item follows through the flow depends on its own requirements, automatic decisions in rules (such as decision trees and map values) and on available resources. For example:

As a flow executes, the following processing often occurs:

Types of flows

Parallel processing with Split Join

In some business processes, the order of certain steps is not important as long as all the steps get done. In other situations, a step can be considered complete when either of two other steps finishes.

The Split Join facility (Split Join or Split Join shape) supports such asynchronous operation, by allowing processing of two or more subprocesses to proceed in parallel. For example, a contract may need approval of both a legal reviewer and a purchasing department reviewer, but order is not important. In the 1980's era of paper forms and in-boxes, only one of these two has the paper — artificial sequencing. With a work-object and a flow that uses Split Join, each subprocess can create an assignment, and the two reviewers can proceed independently.

See Flow form — Editing in Process Modeler — Split Join shape properties

Advanced featureSplit Join parallel processing occurs only when considered at the business process level. Although two assignments exist, they both belong to a single work item. During the minutes or seconds that either user performs the assignment (thus updating the work item), the system locks the work item, and the work item is not available to the other user.

Similarly, at a more atomic level, if the two users both access a single-node PRPC system that has a single JVM and single CPU chip, no parallel processing occurs at the Java thread level, even when the two users work on different work items.

Parallel processing with Split For Each

The Split For Each facility (Split for Each) causes multiple subprocesses to start, one for each page of a Page List property. Processing can resume after any one, or all, of the subprocesses end.

See Flow form — Process Modeler — Editing a Split For Each shape.

Parallel processing with Spinoff

A Spinoff shape starts asynchronous execution of a different flow, on the same work item or a different work item. Processing of the current flow does not pause or wait for results from the other flow.

To create a spinoff, use a Subprocess shape (Subprocess). Select the Spinoff Flow check box. See Flow form — Editing with Process Modeler — Editing the Subprocess shape properties.

Parallel processing with Start a New Process and flow actions

PRPC offers ways for a flow execution to be started for an existing (open) work item. These are alternatives to calling a subprocess, using a Split Join shape, or using a Split for Each shape:

Data structure for flow executions

Several system-maintained properties in a work item record the current state of flow executions in process. For example, the integer property @baseclass.pxFlowCount indicates how many flow executions are in process for the work item.

The Page Group property @baseclass.pxFlow contains a page of facts about each execution:

Definitions Business Process Management, customer process management, draft mode, exceptions management, flow model, headless application, Process category
Related topics About Flows
Flow form — Process Modeler basics
Understanding locking and transactions during flow executions
Standard rules Atlas — Process API
Atlas — Standard Flows