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Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Petri Nets.

De Michelis, G.; Ellis, C.A.

In: Reisig, W.; Rozenberg, G.: Lecture Notes in Computer Science, Vol. 1492: Lectures on Petri Nets II: Applications. Springer-Verlag, 1998. ISBN: 3-540-65307-4.

Abstract: Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) has brought to the attention of computer professionals the role computer applications may play supporting collaboration, coordination and communication among people cooperating in a common task. In particular, people acting in accordance with a structured workflow, as a procedure or as a project plan, can be supported by a class of systems called workflow management systems, not only to play their role in it, but also to increase their awareness of the situation in which they are acting so that they can make better decisions when needed and overcome breakdowns finding new (exceptional) paths. Workflow management systems, in fact, facilitate the description, modeling, analysis, enactment, and coordination of (the) structured (component of) work processes. These systems assist and mediate communication, interaction, understanding, synchronization among collaborating people and processes within organizations.

Petri Nets have played a major role in the development of the workflow management Systems technology from its very beginning, in the age of office automation, since they have immediately appeared to the pioneers in the field as a good formal and graphical language to model workflows. Their role is assuming a greater importance within a CSCW perspective where new requirements for workflow management Systems have been recognized. Workflow techniques, in fact, have existed for but, despite progress in many areas, intelligent, industrial strength workflow systems are not well established; the models themselves are too restrictive and the systems lack flexibility, built-in intelligence, distribution, and a comprehensive theoretical foundation.

This paper takes a look at the past, present, and potential future of workflow technology and of the role of Petri Nets in it. The authors reflect upon experiences building and deploying ``office information systems'' at Xerox PARC during the 1970s; progress on flexible groupware systems and models during the 1980s; and the state of the art in the 1990s. This document briefly discusses ongoing research, and work that needs to be done to prevent a repetition of the past failures.

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