Sunday, January 28, 2007


Document Case Studies With D-O-C-U-M-E-N-T

I'm once again teaching Document Engineering at UC Berkeley. But this year I decided to begin the course with a few weeks of case studies and news stories to give the students more real-world texture in which to ground the abstract principles and design methods. And in addition, this year I came up with a checklist for understanding and describing the stories to encourage a consistent and complete analysis. I confess it is a little goofy to use the eight letters of DOCUMENT as a mnemonic for eight aspects of a case study, but I still remember these sorts of things from high school and college courses and people believe in mnemonics (See this site for a big collection of them) So here goes.


D -- data types and document types

O -- organizational transactions and processes

C -- context (e.g., types of products or services, industry, geography, regulatory considerations)

U -- user types and special user requirements

M -- models, patterns, or standards that apply or that are needed

E -- enterprises and ecosystems (e.g., trading communities, standards bodies)

N -- the needs (business case) driving the enterprise(s)

T -- technology constraints and opportunities

I think the only one of these that might be unfamiliar is the C for context. I'm using it in the sense developed during the ebXML initiative
. about 2000. In my Document Engineering book with Tim McGrath we explain "Context" in Chapter 8 this way:

The ebXML project proposed eight context dimensions.

These can be envisioned as defining a multidimensional "8-space" or coordinate classification system in which millions of different contexts would be distinguished by their values on each dimension.

We can best explain this idea with an example. Consider an export broker buying aircraft fuel in Japan for shipment to Korea. The documents required in this situation would need information appropriate for contexts such as:

Business Process = Procurement

Product Classification = Aircraft Fuel

Industry Classification = Petrochemicals

Geopolitical = Japan

Official Constraints = Export

Business Process Role = Buyer

Business Supporting Role = Intermediary

Each of these values would have associated with it sets of rules that satisfy the requirements for that context dimension, and taken together they would form the set of requirements for the unique situation defined by all eight dimensions. The ebXML architecture further envisions a repository in which these sets of rules are stored and from which they can be retrieved to assemble the document definition needed for any context.

I don't think this idea of "context 8-space" is workable, but it is useful to think of a "context" as a cluster or pattern of high-level requirements and that's the sense I'm using it as the C in the case study checklist.

In any case, the first assignment in my Document Engineering course this semester requires the students to analyze a case study or news story using the D-O-C-U-M-E-N-T checklist. So we'll see if it works and I might ask them if I can post some of their stories and analyses here so you too can help decide how useful this mnemonic is.

-Bob Glushko

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