Using UML Sequence diagrams to derive e-Framework Service Usage Models

The e-Framework is a documentation standard for service-oriented system development, that I've been involved in. It has a registry of abstract services (service genres) and services profiled to communities and standards (service expressions). It also has service usage models (SUM), which present the services needed to realise a system, by lining up the services and data sources that each business process uses in the system. Like this:

That's just the SUM diagram; there is a whole document that goes with it, explaining how the business processes map to services via system functions, the usage scenarios, what situations the SUM is applicable to, design considerations, and so on. But the SUM diagram already gives an overview of the wherewithal for putting such a system together. And so long as the services and data sources are kept reasonably abstract, the diagram can be used to compare different systems from different domains, and work out their common infrastructure requirements.

In a project I've been working on recently for Link Affiliates, I had to come up with a range of implementation options for the solution I was describing, and use the e-Framework to do so. I had been describing the solutions with UML Sequence diagrams. The following is a way of mapping from the former to the latter that I came up; it's pretty obvious, but I thought it might be of interest anyway.

I am assuming you're already familiar with UML Sequence diagrams.

UML Sequence diagrams are a good match for service usage models, because both are concerned with how a system interacts with the outside world. The interactions are drawn explicitly in the UML; in the SUM, interactions happen through the services that the system exposes. (That's why it's a service usage model: it's how external users interact with the system.)

We make the following assumptions:

  1. Any sequence of interactions initiated by a human actor corresponds to a business process meaningful to a human. Some sequences initiated by computer agents are also potentially meaningful business processes.
  2. All interactions between objects are through services. (We are taking a service-oriented view of the interactions, after all.)
  3. All objects sending or receiving data through messages are potentially data sources and data sinks. (The two are not differentiated in the e-Framework.)

Given the first assumption, we can break up a large sequence of interactions into several business processes, depending on how actors intervene:

Of course, this step is cheating: you probably already have an idea of what business processes you want to see. Anyway.

Given the next assumption, if you want to know what services your application uses, just read off the messages from the UML diagram. Each of those messages should be communicated as a service --- through a defined interface between systems. So the messages are all service calls.

Some provisos:

  • Like we said, the SUM is about how the system interacts with external users and systems. So any interactions within a system are out of scope: they aren't exposed as a service.
  • Some services will in fact involve several subsidiary service interactions. They would be described in a distinct service usage model, which can be modularised out of the current SUM.
  • Return messages are included in the definition of a service; so they do not need to be counted separately.
  • A message forwarding a request from one actor to another may be ignored, as it does not represent a new service instance.

    • For instance, we choose not to model the Ordering message from the Orders system to the Warehouse Manager; that message is really only forwarding the initial order made by the customer, and can instead be counted as service choreography.

  • The e-Framework consolidates services into a minimal-ish vocabulary (at the service genre level). So the messages should be mapped to established types of services wherever possible; the point of the exercise is to compare between systems, and that means the services have to make sense outside their particular business context.

    • So in the example below, "Disambiguate" will actually be done through a search; so that message is counted as an instance of Search.

  • Likewise, if a message is described only in terms of its payload, you will have to come up with a sensible service to match.

    • The message from the Orders system to the Warehouse Management system is described just as "Part Name". Because this is a retrieval of information based on the part name, we describe it explicitly as Search.

Likewise, the swimlanes acting as data sources and sinks are interpreted as e-framework data sources.

Now that we know the business processes, the services, and the data sources from our UML Sequence diagram, we only have to line them up into the e-Framework SUM diagram:

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