Workflow Management with Web Technologies in an Online Publishing System

bubblesvoltaireInternet and Web Development

Nov 10, 2013 (3 years and 5 months ago)


Workflow Management with Web Technologies
in an Online Publishing System
Christoph v. Uthmann, Mario Speck
Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster
Institut für Wirtschaftsinformatik
Steinfurter Str. 107, D-48149 Münster, Germany
Tel.: (0251) 83 38-064/-100, Fax: (0251) 83 38-109
{ischut | ismasp }
Today’s business and research often requires the compilation of knowledge worked out
asynchronously by different distributed knowledge holders through the consolidation in
working documents. This is in general connected with diverse review and revise processes.
Due to awkward paper based information flows and lacking in control this task is often
characterized by exceptionally lengthiness, spontaneous, unsystematic work, high error fre-
quency and lack of transparency which results in insufficient quality.
Coming from the initial goal of supporting a process oriented management of distributed
editorial work in the publishing sector - which is analogous to the problem outlined -
INTERFYS is an innovative Internet based system concept for making such processes more
efficient by applying the concepts of Workflow Management just using Web technologies. The
paper explains and evaluates the conceptual and technical aspects of the System INTERFYS
1.0 which has just been realized and was presented on the CeBIT 1998 in Hannover.
1 From Online Presentation to process oriented dynamic Support of
editorial Work
INTERFYS, a project of the Institute for Information Systems, Münster (Germany), originates
from working on innovative Online (Electronic, Internet) Publishing Concepts. The
extensively leading market position of paper-based professional publications on the one hand
and the missing profitability of existing online publishing systems on the other hand indicate
that available Internet technologies are not used efficiently for publishing purposes in the
scientific and professional domain. This situation is even more astonishing considering the
obvious disadvantages of print publishing, e.g. the high costs of logistics (which do not have
any value for readers), strongly limited search features, the lack of actuality and quality caused
by inefficient review and publishing processes, limits of contents etc.
Against this background the initial goal of INTERFYS was the conception and realization of
an innovative Online (Electronic) Publishing system, which supports editorial work
overcoming the severe disadvantages of print publishing.
The problems sketched above are not limited to the publishing sector, though. They rather
concern one of the most fundamental subtasks of Knowledge Management which comes up
very often in day-to-day business and research: The compilation of knowledge worked out by
different distributed knowledge holders through the consolidation in working documents, e.g.
project plans, business reports, presentation layers, product designs, idea sketches,
announcements, telephone lists, reports, advertisements or research papers. Actually, over
90% of companies knowledge is - according to a study of the Gartner Group - stored in form
of documents [Schneider (1995), p. 8].
Knowledge is today’s key factor of sophisticated economies and dominant in companies and
research institutes value chain. Knowledge Management therefore brings into focus all
activities regarding production, reproduction, distribution and multiplication of relevant
knowledge. This knowledge focus and the ability to create innovative knowledge in business
and science is essential for progress and competitiveness and requires an efficient exchange of
specialist knowledge. In view of economic and scientific speed up and globalization an
effective Knowledge Management has to make the state of the art available. Thus it needs to
use a long range, optimally a world wide exchange of specialist knowledge. In the context of
consolidating knowledge in working documents it has to operate within a widespread net of
knowledge holders and controllers who provide a customer oriented range of high quality
documents, i.e. documents which can be used by recipients punctually, efficiently and
The consolidation related to the production and publishing of corporate and research
documents is usually connected with diverse review and revise processes. These business
processes are indeed analogous to editorial processes in the publishing sector; therefore they
will both be subsumed under the term editorial processes in the following.
Editorial Processes show three core characteristics [see also Kirstein, Montasser-Kohsari
(1996), pp. 88-89]:
1. The published documents - as the result of the editorial processes - are composed in
division of labor, i.e. there are a number of authors, reviewers and editors involved which
may work asynchronously and locally distributed all over the world. Moreover, there are
utilized different application systems and data formats.
2. The Processes do not necessarily have to be set up ad-hoc from scratch for each new
document individually. They rather often have a structure which is - possibly not formally
- determined in advance and can be specified in process models.
3. The Processes are frequently executed, so that an optimization of the business process
management would be profitable.
Managing collaboration (related to the first point) causes problems: Due to awkward paper
based information flows and lacking in control conventional editorial processes are often
characterized by exceptionally lengthiness, spontaneous, unsystematic work, high error fre-
quency and lack of transparency which results all in all in an insufficient quality.
Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) systems try to make collaborative business
processes like editorial processes more efficient. Efficient cooperative work is first based on
data integration. However, integrated systems do not only have to provide applications, data
and documents for supporting single activities within editorial processes but need also to
support the control of triggering activities. A corresponding organizational perspective of
integration is given by the functional integration, i.e. joining activities together in process
chains. In this context, process orientation has been discussed by generating numerous
concepts like Lean Production, Total Quality Management, Supply Chain Management or
Business Process Reengineering, which can be subsumed under the term Process
Management. A very popular information technology dedicated especially to Process
Management in terms of Office Automation are Workflow Management Systems [see also
Bartholomew (1995)].
The characteristics outlined in point 2 and 3 do additionally indicate a high potential benefit
derived from an automation using Workflow Management. Consequently, the INTERFYS
project has not only been focussed only on static management of documents but on a
workflow based dynamic process oriented support of distributed editorial work within an
2 Management of Editorial Processes - State of the Art
There are numerous products called ”Online Publishing System”. Generally, these Systems
only support the presentation of hypermedial documents in the World Wide Web (WWW) and
dynamic search functions. In most cases these documents are simple copies or extracts of
articles published in print journals before [see also Kirstein, Montasser-Kohsari (1996);
O´Reilly (1996)]. This way an informational surplus value can be offered, but the problems
outlined above are not overcome. However, even pure Electric Journals (Magazines, e-zines) -
although they cope with the problem of awkward and expensive paper based logistics - leave
out the potentials supporting Process Management with information technology like
Workflow Management Systems. On the opposite editorial work is mostly organized by
divisions and not by processes, although it has been evaluated as harmful in numerous
publications about Business Process Reengineering (BPR) [see for example Hammer,
Champy (1993)]. Moreover, editorial work is often done in an individual way for each article
disregarding the potentials of standardizing and automating the corresponding processes.
Workflow Management means ”the automation of business processes, in whole or part, during
which documents, information or tasks are passed from one participant to another for actions,
according to a set of procedural rules” (workflow model) [Workflow Management Coalition
(1996), p. 11]. It has become very popular in the commercial as well as in the research world.
The development in this area is enormous [see also Fischer (1997); Geakopoulos et al. (1995);
Jablonski, Bussler (1996), Lawrence (1997a); Sheth et al. (1996)]. Currently some Workflow
Management Systems have already been upgraded by interfaces to the Web. However, the
quality of web support varies strongly from product to product. Only a few systems permit
workflows to be initiated via WWW. Work list handling and workflow control from browsers
are still seldom, too. For example STAFFWARE [] and
DIGITAL [] provide workflow systems with relatively sophisticated
support. workflow applications dedicated to an integrated support of entire editorial processes
- from first submission to final publication within the Internet or any Intranet - are not known
[see also Kueng (1997)].
3 Conceptual and Technical Aspects of INTERFYS
The first stage of the project already resulted in a productive system (INTERFYS 1.0) which
was presented on the CeBIT 1998 in Hannover (Germany) and will be the platform for a pure
electronic professional magazine for business information systems (for the present German-
3.1 Systems Architecture
The system is realized in an innovative way integrating Internet, Data Management and
Workflow Management. Data Management is related to data integration while Workflow
Management supports controlling and monitoring of editorial processes. This Integration is
realized exclusively by standard WWW system components, i.e. without using dedicated
Workflow Management systems (see figure 1).
Fig. 1: Architecture of INTERFYS
Consequently, for reviewing, administrating, submission and reading of documents the system
can be accessed solely via Web browsers which are used as telework workplaces from all
participants in editorial process.
The core of INTERFYS is formed by a gateway application, which allows users to interact
with the system, integrating browser, WWW server and Database Systems into a dynamic
Web application. Each request submitted by the users Web browser (1 of figure 1) is
transmitted to the WWW-server via http. It launches (2) a gateway function (3), which
provides the results (for example through a query to the database (3)) which are transferred in
HTML (4) and transmitted back to the browser (5).
The gateway application is realized with Cold Fusion™ from Allaire [Allaire (1997),]. Unlike other approaches, which are predominantly bourne shell
scripts (Unix), batch files (Windows NT, 95), C or Perl programs linked to WWW servers via
the Common Gateway Interface (CGI), Cold Fusion uses a proprietary server-side markup
language (Cold Fusion Markup Language - CFML) that is a superset of HTML (Hypertext
Markup Language), i.e. there are additional tags for a flexible programming language which is
specially suitable for developing dynamic Web application.
3.2 Management of editorial workflows
Differently from prevailing Online Publishing systems INTERFYS takes into account that the
characteristics of editorial processes outlined above implicate a high potential benefit
derivable from process automation. Consequently, one goal has been a workflow based
support of the entire editorial processes - from first submission to final publication.
According to its initial purpose INTERFYS supports the editorial process depicted strongly
simplified through the Petri Net (P/T-Net) in figure 2.
in DB
Select Reviewer and
Rev.+ Arb.
Review Document
1 + 2
Both Reviews
OK ?
Decide about
two Review
Points,Fields Points,Fields
Reject Document
Put Document
into the Net
Revise and
submit Document
in DB
first time
into the Net
Apply reader
Review Document
to Author
Revise and submit
into the Net
into the Net
Fig. 2: Editorial process of a professional Online Magazine (strongly simplified)
Authors submit documents via a Web page authorizing themselves and triggering (simply by
click) a FTP (File Transfer Protocol) upload of the authors document. The review is executed
respectively by two reviewer and one arbitrator, who judges the document finally on the basis
of the two reviews. The arbitrator and reviewer do neither know the author nor each other
(double covered review). For ensuring the quality and faithfulness to deadlines there are
numerous loops in the process structure.
Workflow Management intends the automation of process control in a way that maximizes the
goals of Business Process Management (see table 1). In INTERFYS Workflow Management
is not realized using a dedicated Workflow Management System but is implemented
exclusively as CFML programs in the Cold Fusion Server. It could therefore be argued, that -
because there is no workflow engine - INTERFYS has nothing to do with Workflow
Management. The answer to this is that two constitutive criteria of Workflow Management
are fulfilled here [see also Leymann, Roller (1997), pp. 102]:
1. There is realized an automation of process control executing core functions of Workflow
 Coordination of activities - automation of the transition of single activities within an
editorial process. The knowledge, which activity follows another, is handed over to
INTERFYS completely (this approach is regarded as transactional or production
workflow by some authors [Sheth, Rusinkivicz (1993); Georgakopoulos, Hornick,
Sheth (1995), p. 126]). The workflow-based coordination of activities enables to reduce
non-value activities like asking for information and supports learning effects.
 Coordination of actors - automation of editors deployment for the execution of process
activities. In this respect tasks related to certain activities are assigned to editors
depending on their knowledge and workload. Coordination instruments are the
notification and synchronization mechanisms via work lists which can be handled
solely through web browsers. This approach accelerates the identification of qualified
personal and eliminates respective search activities (see fig. 3).
 Coordination of data and application systems - automated provision of the relevant
data for the editorial work and triggering of the appropriate application system for
reading, writing and printing via remote data and procedure calls respectively. The
efficient provision of data is said to be one of the most important economical
arguments for the implementation of Workflow Management systems [Fisher (1997),
pp. 54].
 Monitoring and controlling of process instances: Automation of the extraction,
comfortable graphical presentation of information referring to running and finished
processes. Additionally there are realized automated warning messages, escalation
workflows (see fig. 3).
2. There is a separation of task logic, i. e. of programs which support tasks referring to
activities to be executed within workflows (individual text editors, FTP-Server, Web-
Server, Mail-Server, Acrobat Writer™, Acrobat Reader™, see paragraph 3.3) and process
logic, i.e. programs for automation of process control in the sense of the core functions of
Workflow Management outlined. This is because the latter ones are implemented
exclusively in the Gateway Server as a CFML programs.
Figure 3 shows exemplary how the first two workflow steps “Submit Document first time”
and “Select Reviewer and Arbitrator” have been implemented using CFML.
A workflow activity “Submit Document first time” - and therefore a workflow instance - is
triggered by authors in the way sketched above. The activity itself is automatically executed
by the gateway program. It triggers the FTP-Upload and routes the relevant control data (date
of submission, authors data, title, research domains etc.) to certain fields in the data base
system. The upper part of figure 3 shows how the generic SQL statements are dynamically
build using CFML language performing the needed database inserts. As an excerpt of the hole
CFML module it is shown how the submission database table an the authors/co-authors table
is filled with the submitted data. Finally, the gateway program triggers the next activity
“Select Reviewers and Arbitrator”.
<!--- Insert new submission in Table submissions --->
<CFQUERY NAME="create_submission_entry" DATASOURCE="interfys">
insert into submissions (title, abstract, createdate, printqueue, version, b_status)
values ('#titel#', '#abstract_neu#','#dateformat(now(),"")#', '1', '0', '0')
<!--- Insert Mainauthor and Coauthors--->
<CFQUERY NAME="mainauthor" DATASOURCE="interfys">
insert into author_submission(pid,bnr,mainauthor)
values ('#form.kennung#', '#bnr#','1')
<CFIF #isdefined("form.authors")#>
<CFLOOP INDEX="listelement" LIST="#form.autoren#">
<!--- With the CFIF double usage of author is prevented--->
<CFIF #listelement# IS NOT #form.kennung#>
<CFQUERY NAME="satz_#listelement#" DATASOURCE="interfys">
insert into autor_submission (pid,bnr,mainauthor)
values ('#listelement#', '#bnr#','0')
Submit Document
first time
in DB
Select Reviewer
and Arbitrator
Reviewer and
Arbitrator notified
<!--- Select Reviewers which are suitable for review process --->
<!--- by checking lowest points, research domain and availability--->
<cfquery Name="Select_Reviewer" Datasource="interfys">
Select PID, Points From Reviewer
WHERE V_Status = 0 AND Reviewer.PID IN QuotedValueList(Rev_zu_Themen.PID)#)
<cfif Belegte_Rev.RecordCount Greater Than 0>
AND Reviewer.PID NOT IN (#QuotedValueList(Belegte_Rev.PID)#)
AND Points = ( Select Min(Points) From Reviewer
WHERE Reviewer.PID IN (#QuotedValueList(Rev_zu_Themen.PID)#)
<cfif Belegte_Rev.RecordCount Greater Than 0>
AND Reviewer.PID NOT IN (#QuotedValueList(Belegte_Rev.PID)#)
</cfif> )
<cfif Auswahl_Rev.RecordCount Greater Than 0>
<cfif Auswahl_Rev.RecordCount IS 1>
<cfset #Auswahl# = Auswahl_Rev.PID>
<cfset #Position# = #RandRange(1,Auswahl_Rev.RecordCount)#>
<cfset #Auswahl# = ListGetAt(ValueList(Auswahl_Rev.PID),Position)>
<!--- PID now contains the selected reviewer --->
<!--- Create Workitem in Database--->
<cfquery name="Workitems" datasource="interfys">
Select runtimet, Plus_Points From Workitemtype
Where AID = #Aufgabe#
<cfquery name="Create_Workitem" DataSource="interfys">
INSERT INTO Workitem (PID, BNR, Indate, Duedate, WI_Status, AID)
VALUES ('#Auswahl#',
<cfquery name="Update_Points" DataSource="interfys">
Update Reviewer
Set Points = Points + #Aufgabendaten.Plus_Points#,
PS_Changed = '#DateFormat(now(),"")#'
Where PID = '#Auswahl#'
<!--- Notify the selected reviewer via E-Mail --->
<cfquery name="persondata" DataSource="interfys"> Select * From Person Where PID = '#Auswahl#'
<cfquery name="Maildata" DataSource="interfys"> Select * From EMail Where ENR = 12 </cfquery>
<CFSET #anrede# = #personendata.anrede#>
<CFSET #nachname# = #personendata.nachname#>
SUBJECT=#evaluate(de(maildata.mailname))#> #evaluate(de(maildata.mailtext))#
Submit Document
first time
in DB
Select Reviewer
and Arbitrator
Reviewer and
Arbitrator notified
Fig. 3: CFML Implementation of workflow steps.
The first step of this activity is to determine the persons needed for reviewing and arbitrating.
For this, the gateway program generates - on the basis of the research domain data (see above)
- a SQL-Query which selects the persons with proper research domain and the lowest credit
point score. In the second step a SQL-Statement generates a relationship between the key
attributes of the article related data and the key attributes of the selected personal data
(Worklists updated, via “INSERT INTO Workitem”). Moreover, the mail server is triggered
to send e-mails to the selected persons (“Reviewer and Arbitrator notified”). As shown above
the same source code.
Already this example shows some key features of the gateway server concerning the
Workflow Management functions:
 workflow activities, i.e. pieces of work that form one logical step within a workflow. They
can be executed by invoked applications (e.g. an e-mail program) referenced by CFML-
commands triggering these applications. Activities done by persons are defined by CFML-
waiting loops reacting to events sent by the database system according to transactions as a
result of corresponding activities (e.g. the gateway server is waiting for events of
“submission” which follow the authors writing activities).
 The logical workflow structure is specified by simple sequence or if-then-else commands
in CFML.
 For the INTERFYS system the workflow enactment (triggering) is a special kind of
manual activity and therefore implemented using the same CFML-waiting loop technique.
 To determine the state transitions of workflow instances workflow relevant data (see
figure 4), for example the event of finishing the transaction selecting the persons or the
date of submission which determines if the review is in time or not, is used creating
appropriate SQL-Statements.
 The same applies to workflow control data which represents the dynamic state of
workflows and activities.
 Applications are invoked through CFML commands including appropriate rpc or dll.
 The user interfaces (see figure 5) for workflow participants (authors, reviewers/arbitrators,
INTERFYS-controller) are realized through the cooperation of the INTERFYS-
components as sketched in 3.1. The request of the work item pool through the
INTERFYS-controller (simply made by a click in the Web browser), for example, is
answered by a query referring to all documents having not been reviewed so far. Based on
the result of the query an appropriate list is generated for the users Web browser.
Moreover there are implemented some administrative functions for the INTERFYS-
 Monitoring functions which track and report workflow events during and after workflow
execution are realized through regular database system features. The request of states and
reports is partly possible via Web browser.
 Escalations, i.e. procedures which are invoked if particular constraints or conditions are
not met (in INTERFYS, when deadlines are not fulfilled) are triggered through automate
checks of work items (articles) and their submission data. For critical workitems e-mails
are sent to reviewers, arbitrators or the INTERFYS-controller respectively.
Hence, the gateway application acts as a controlling middleware, i.e. a layer between
applications supporting activities and data which are needed for that. Exactly this is the
characteristic of a Workflow Management System. While regular Workflow Management
System usually provide graphic-based languages dedicated to define workflow types CFML is
a purely textual languages for describing interactions between Web servers and data base
Key Words
is releated to
is relate to
isrelated to
Task Type
Related Links
Fig 5: Data Model of INTERFYS
Fig. 6: Monitoring screen for an INTERFYS controller
Consequently there has been worked out a manual, which contains a set of CFML statements
to realize elements of workflow definitions i.e. logical workflow structures (sequence, AND,
XOR etc) role resulutions, remote function calls, monitoring etc (see fig. 3). The resulting
subset of CFML forms a textual workflow definition language which can flexibly be used to
specify different workflow types.
In table 1 some selected INTERFYS functions are matched with three goals of Business
Process Management (of course, some of the functions would match with more then one goal)
[Theuvsen (1996), pp. 74-75].:
BPM Goal Functions of INTERFYS
Process Efficiency
Optimization of process
criteria such as processing
time or the quality of process
 automated additional notification of workflow participants via e-mail
 automated reminding via e-mail when missing interim deadlines
 efficient exchange of views about single documents or topics through hierarchically
structured discussion forums
 high quality documents through widespread and unprejudiced collaboration of different
participants from anywhere, who may keep anonymous to each other
 securing the editorial Intranet through password-based protection mechanisms
Resource efficiency
Efficient use of the resources
available for the execution of
 assigning automatically documents to reviewers and arbitrators according to their know-
ledge and workload through the maintenance of personal data including a credit point
system reflecting persons done and missed work items.
 providing of documents to be reviewed with numbered lines and an electronic form to fill
in review results.
Market efficiency
The proper positioning of the
supplier in its relation to intern
or extern customers. This
includes a reliable prediction
of delivery times, transparent
communication with suppliers
and customers and optimized
procurement and distribution
 acceptation of nearly all word processor formats
 ensuring faithfulness to deadlines through automated setting and control of time limits
 ensuring an uniform graphical user interface (GUI) through the use of CFMP templates
 providing the possibility of always making inquiries about the state of processes
 authors and reviewer/arbitrators keep anonymous through the separation of their data
from document content data
 simple system maintenance and adaptability regarding different process requirements
 comfortable graphical support of the INTERFYS controller (see fig. 3)
Tab. 1: Selected Workflow Management functions
3.3 Distribution of Documents
Once a document has finally been accepted it will be automatically transformed in PDF
documents. These are hypermedia-capable documents which can be viewed inline through the
Acrobat Reader™ from Adobe []. The advantage of this format is its
optical similarity with conventional paper documents. Because it is a kind of postscript format
authors can determine the design of documents independently of Web browsers configurations
which is still a weak point of online publishing documents via HTML. Moreover PDF
documents can easily be printed properly, overcoming a second severe problem of HTML
based documents. Table 2 comprises some distributive functions of INTERFYS.
Distribution Goal Functions of INTERFYS
Inter, Intra and Extranets Access of documents can be world wide or can be restricted by applying passwords, as they
are already used within the editorial Intranet.
Simple Document Retrieval
Readers are offered comfortable document search functions referencing fields, headword and
abstracts (full text).
Dynamic Contents
Through versioning utilities INTERFYS supports the publication of draft documents which are
continuously updated or documents whose period of validity is limited.
Active Information There is the possibility of being automatically informed about all new documents related to
certain fields or headword through a digest service.
Hierarchical structured discussion forums support the mutual exchange of views about single
documents special fields.
Tab. 2: Selected distribution functions
4 Summary and Perspectives
Unlike prevailing Online Publishing systems INTERFYS does not only support the
widespread presentation of documents but also improves the management of editorial
processes with flexible IT support of process control. By increasing transparency and
controllability of processes by systematic feedback control circuits, higher process and
resource efficiency can be reached.
Currently there are just a few Workflow Management systems available which have the
capability to work sufficiently in the context of web. But even in comparison to solutions
based on such Workflow Management Systems, INTERFYS has three significant advantages
[see also Lawrence (1997b)]:
 A Workflow Management system would be an additional component which is itself costly
and does not have the functionality that let’s the gateway server appear obsolete.
 Editorial processes are pretty simple and would utilize only a minimum of a functionality
brought by Workflow Management systems. On the other hand specific requirements
occur which these ones may have problems to cope with, like assigning one work item to
exactly two workflow participants on the basis of a credit point system.
 INTERFYS is a very simple system which can probably be customized more easily then
Workflow Management systems which due to their high functionality tend to be very
complex. Especially because of the internet focus of the gateway system and the relatively
simple workflow structure the implementation costs could be kept very low without using
a dedicated workflow engine. Using an workflow engine would lead to more complex API
programming and the advantage of graphical workflow modeling and the higher flexibility
is not needed in the context of professional online publication systems.
Against this background INTERFYS provides not only a working environment within the
general context of knowledge consolidation in documents and Knowledge Management but
shows a very powerful and cost efficient way to realize Workflow Management with Web
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