Ontology Support for Home Care Process Design
Jonas Bulegon Gassen, Alencar Machado, Lucin
eia Heloisa Thom and Jos
e Palazzo M. de Oliveira
Instituto de Inform
atica, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Porto Alegre, Brazil
Home Care, Ontologies, Business Process, Web Services, Process Design.
For the implementation of home care systems, using sensors and devices to provide assistance to the patient,
it is necessary to develop an easy way to configure each home, since differences between them exist and
a personalized one-by-one planning is expensive. To support this configuration need we propose a Service
Oriented Architecture which uses process models to create service orchestrations to personalize each environ-
ment. Process design requires a good understanding of the application domain; business analysts interview
the domain experts and translate their understanding to process models. This modelling may be very complex
as the vocabulary used by the domain expert is very specific and difficult to understand by process analysts.
Therefore, the process model elements (such as activities and role labels) can be named with inappropriate
terms. Moreover, the lack of domain understanding by business analysts increases the probability of errors
in the process design. In this paper we propose a methodology in which ontologies are used to support the
process design, expressing the modelling possibilities and also provides semantic to help the development
process. Altogether the approach aims to facilitate the design of each service orchestrations for home care
systems, by non specialists.
The elderly population increased over the last years.
Thus, home care strategies show to be suitable mainly
because of cost and scalability reasons. Assuming
that intelligent homes will be offered, a problem of
scalability will appear since every patient and every
environment has their own particularities. Our re-
search challenge is to investigate how to facilitate the
design task by applying ontological support to define
the best suited workflows in a specific home project.
Our goal is to personalize homes from process
models, abstracting technical implementation issues.
This is equivalent to the Data Base development,
which starts from a conceptual schema that abstracts
any implementation issue. In our approach each pos-
sible action performed by the system is a Web Service
(WS). For example, to an actuator turn the lights on
there is an associated web service, to present some
information on the TV exists another WS, for a sen-
sor communicate the humidity of the floor and so on.
Based on an ontology, which expresses the possible
interactions (as turn the light on) and the involved par-
ticipants (as the home system or the caregiver), the
designer may model the situations for the patient con-
As example: consider that a patient has Alzheimer
and sometime becomes agitated. In these cases the
system could interfere trying to calm the patient or
calling some related person. The first step is to de-
tect the agitation behaviour (sensors are used in this
task, with WS), then the system checks the caregiver
location (WS). If the caregiver is at home, a message
is sent to him (WS), in other cases the system calls
an ambulance from the nearest care provider (WS).
In both cases the system checks the level of agita-
tion (WS) and if is high it suggests the use of drugs
(by message, WS). Otherwise it plays a music (WS)
that should calm down the patient. All tasks marked
with (WS) in the example occur through web services.
This model follows the process project concept and
may be implemented in a residential system.
Engineering is an expensive task in itself, but the con-
sequences of bad engineering are even worse, result-
ing, for instance, in the loss of the possibility to de-
ploy customized home care for a large public. In-
formation systems supporting the home care activi-
ties play a critical role in minimizing errors and de-
lays. Computer-supported tasks require the concur-
rent participation of multiple designers with a broad
Bulegon Gassen J., Machado A., Heloisa Thom L. and Palazzo M. de Oliveira J..
Ontology Support for Home Care Process Design.
DOI: 10.5220/0003995600840089
In Proceedings of the 14th International Conference on Enterprise Information Systems (ICEIS-2012), pages 84-89
ISBN: 978-989-8565-11-2
2012 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
range of competences and a difficult communication
barrier. The design task complexity is compounded
by its interdisciplinary character: the health care en-
gineering system has to assure design consistency be-
tween teams with different specialities that must work
as freely as possible. The approach, which is based
on a simple yet powerful conceptual model, combines
ontology and workflows to clarify the terms and con-
cepts and to facilitate the design process. Its fea-
tures are nowadays either supported by very expen-
sive or very specialized integrated packages, or sep-
arately performed by largely disintegrated database
managers, drafting systems and other software.
A home care design methodology must satisfy the
following requirements:
Abstraction. design on a given conceptual level
should be able to abstract design aspects concerning
more detailed levels;
Design Coordination. the conceptual model should
support the management of loosely coupled design
Conceptual Comfort. each concept of the model
should reflect established design habits naturally. In
the design of an instrumentation circuit familiar in-
strumentation symbols must be employed. When a
certain instrument is to be used at a certain location, a
set of instrument classes should be presented;
Generality. conceptual foundations must support a
broad scope of technologies, they must not be spe-
cific to any specific technology. Classes, types, rules,
e.g., must be defined and customized by the user, not
“hard” pre-programmed into the design package;
Coupling between Disciplines. The design task is
multi-disciplinary: a home care environment is com-
posed of electrical, instrumentation, architectural,
leisure and other subsystems, which are designed by
different teams, but interact towards a common goal;
Knowledge Reuse. a home care environment should
support graphical drafting and design at large. For
drafting, a graphical interface is required. Design at
large includes engineering property verification, us-
ing inference analysis.
A home care engineering project is an incremental
process starting from a coarse specification and arriv-
ing at a detailed project. As projects are expensive the
reuse of former work is a necessity. The problem is
well suited for knowledge based and ontological sup-
ported solutions.
An ontology is a formal explicit specification of a
shared conceptualization (Gruber, 1993). Conceptu-
alization refers to a model which describes concepts
(e.g. Patient, Caregiver, Room, etc.) and relation-
ships between these concepts of some domain (e.g.
Assists, hasCaregiver). The term “formal” means that
it has logics applied, which allows to avoid ambigui-
ties, also allows to apply inference mechanisms and to
check the model consistency. Furthermore, “shared”
means that this model is accepted by a group of peo-
ple. The ontologies are used to make the modelling
of business process easier, using its expressiveness to
restrict the model designer in some aspects. We use
the Web Ontology Language (OWL), which is a W3C
A business process consists of a set of related ac-
tivities which are performed in a coordinated way.
These activities jointly execute a business goal. Each
business process is enacted by a single organization,
but it may interact with business processes performed
by other organizations (Weske, 2007). We understand
that situations of home care can be seen as a set of
activities that occurs in some sequence and in some
context, as well as business processes. For example,
if the patient gets agitated and a message is sent to
the caregiver it is a situation. If the patient gets agi-
tated and an ambulance is called, it is other situation.
Both occur in the same scenario, but in different con-
texts. The scenario presents all possibilities, the con-
text drives the execution performing a situation.
We use the Business Process Modelling Notation
(BPMN), which is a pattern developed under the co-
ordination of the Object Management Group (OMG,
2009). The business process will be used to create
service orchestrations, which controls the web ser-
vices execution. It allows personalized orchestrations,
based on the patient, environment and so on.
Web services can be defined as a capacities
provider, composed by a body of logic which executes
them and by a service agreement, which expresses the
available capacities (Erl, 2007). Service orientation
comprises basically the use of independent services
as components to construct one composition with the
goal of accomplish some objective (Erl, 2007). In this
research, the home care environment includes a va-
riety of services such as: call an ambulance, send a
message to a caregiver, detect behaviour and so on.
Research on process design and ontologies have been
developed for more than ten years. One of the rea-
sons is that ontologies and structured vocabularies in
different domains help to make data understandable
by machines (Manzorr et al., 2007). However, most
of the existent approaches focus on building ontolo-
gies for the business process management domain as
well as in the use of ontologies to add more semantics
for the existent process model notations and execu-
tion languages. Related to these points (Haller and
Oren, 2006), present an ontology that unifies both in-
ternal and external business processes, based on vari-
ous existing reference models and languages from the
workflow and choreography domain. The authors ar-
gue that the interoperability problems in this domain
require an intermediate ontology to reduce the num-
ber of needed mappings.
An interesting approach regarding the semantics
of process design is proposed in the SUPER Project,
which has developed the Business Process Modelling
Ontology (BPMO) (Norton et al., 2009). The BPMO
enables the semantic annotation of high-level busi-
ness process models and it includes concepts to de-
scribe process behavior (workflow), activities and re-
lated organisational data. In the context of the SU-
PER project it was also proposed the Core Ontology
for Business pRocess Analysis (COBRA) which com-
prises a core terminology where business practitioners
can map domain-specific knowledge in order to anal-
yse their business processes (Pedrinaci et al., 2008).
For the intelligent homes there are many ongo-
ing researches as the Gator Tech Smart House (Helal
et al., 2005) which presents a service-oriented ap-
proach that allows to deploy new sensors, actuators
and devices in the home easily. They use the OSGi
(Open Services Gateway Initiative framework) to pro-
vide means for deploy new Java services. In our
approach the difference is that we use the service-
oriented approach based on SOAP, allowing the ser-
vice providers to choose how to implement the ser-
vices. Yet, we propose to use workflow managers to
execute the services and service compositions from
different providers, not only from the home.
Also an European project called Sm4all
(http://www.sm4all-project.eu/) which is in cer-
tain aspects very similar with our research. They
work in the domotics idea, using web services
(Catarci et al., 2011) to execute every available action
in the house, the actions (e.g. open the window
blinds) are provided by sensors, actuators and devices
in general. Furthermore, they work with the idea
of service compositions, the composition is made
automatically by the system that runs de residence,
from goals. They use the web service itself in the
composition, the abstraction that we use allows
using different services to execute the same action,
providing high decoupling and availability.
Considering these approaches, we consider that
the use of ontologies might facilitate the understand-
ing of the process domain, however, the process de-
sign and execution still constitutes a challenge.
The proposed home care system consists of (i) care
providers (e.g. hospitals, general practitioners, phys-
iotherapy clinics, etc.), (ii) the residences of the el-
derly persons and (iii) any other entity that have in-
terest in providing services for those environments.
All participant entities communicate through web ser-
vices. So, the communication is possible directly be-
tween the participants or one of them (e.g. a home
care system provider) can act as intermediary, inte-
grating services provided by others. Examples of ser-
vices are:
The residential system can provide a service for
patient localization;
An intermediary system can provide a service for
choose the best care provider to call, based on in-
formation such as location, health plan, and so on;
The hospital can have a service to inform the am-
bulances availability.
The available services require an orchestration to
accomplish the desired goals, process models will be
employed in this task. Having a knowledge model
(ontology) as base for creation of business process
models will make easier this task.
4.1 Methodology
To illustrate our proposal let’s consider the follow ex-
ample: (1) the patient goes to an appointment with
his physician that does the necessary prescriptions;
(2) The prescriptions are sent to the modelling de-
partment, where a non specialist person creates the
process model based on the prescriptions and a pre-
existing ontology; (3) The process(s) model(s) are
sent to the home system of the patient; (4) The res-
idential system adapts itself to the received model.
During the remain of the paper the second step will
be explained in more details.
Our methodology consists of two steps: to build
the ontology (by the home care system vendor) and
to design the business processes (by the process de-
signer) based on the former ontology. This paper does
not discuss the ontologies design, we assume that it
is already defined and available in the web. The re-
sponsible for the ontology maintains the model well-
formed and consistent, and the updates are accessed
by the clients. The client’s users may be, for exam-
ple, a person who implements the prescriptions of
physicians to the automated residential context. In
this case, the person will probably have some domain
knowledge, but needs of an easy way to model it.
The ontology describes the concepts (eg. Resi-
dentialSystem, Caregiver, Patient, etc.) and the pos-
sible interactions between them in the environment
(e.g. DetectsAgitation, Alerts, Assist, etc). These in-
teractions are relationships between the concepts in
the ontology model, for example, the Caregiver (con-
cept) assists (interaction) the Patient (concept). This
way, the modeller selects the concepts and interac-
tions from the ontology, to create the activities, it is
not necessary to create them during the process de-
sign. Furthermore, the interactions that are compu-
tationally executed are linked to abstract representa-
tions of web services which allow to get information
about this action as the inputs, outputs and so on.
4.2 Activities
An activity is a unit of work that can be executed man-
ually or with the support of a business process man-
agement system. BPMN supports atomic activities
(tasks) or sub-process, that are flows of activities.
According to (Mendling et al., 2010), little atten-
tion has been devoted to labelling the graphical con-
structs of a business process, in particular to activi-
ties, which are an essential part in this kind of mod-
elling. One of the main focus of our research is on
the atomic activities of business processes. Our con-
cerns are about the semantic of the labelling task of
activities. We propose a mark-up strategy instead of
free text labelling, which will make easier to under-
stand (computationally) the output generated from the
model. The activity will be composed of a triplet:
Subject: performs an action (e.g. HomeSystem);
Action: the action itself (e.g. notifies);
Object: suffers an action (e.g. Caregiver);
The examples create an activity for the residential
system (that manages the home) notifies the caregiver
(person who takes care of the patient) about some-
thing that happened. The possible triplets are ex-
pressed in the ontology, the subjects and objects are
concepts, while the actions are relations between the
concepts. The process designer simply select the sub-
jects, actions and objects from the ontology to create
the triplets that are needed for the current modelling
4.3 Actions
An action is something performed manually or com-
putationally during an atomic activity of a process.
Each action of the process model that is performed
for a computational entity will have an abstract rep-
resentation of a service or of a service capacity. For
the execution, the system can choose from the ser-
vice inventory the services that match with this rep-
resentation. This strategy separates the model of the
concrete (program codification), providing dynamic-
ity for the home care system. If a service becames
unavailable, another one can be selected from the in-
ventory and so on. In order to describe the services, it
is possible to use the OWL-S ontology. Thus, describ-
ing the web services with OWL-S ontologies enables
the use of matching strategies as the one described in
(Maamar et al., 2011). Furthermore, other aspects can
be achieved by using these abstract representations of
services. For example, let’s say that the home sys-
tem needs to present some information (text) to the
patient. If the devices of the residence provide web
services, it is possible to match the abstract represen-
tation of the needed action against the services in the
home inventory.
An example refers to the similarity comparisons
of the abstract representation, verify if it is possible
to use services presenting different characteristics but
achieving similar goals. A problem occurs within the
TV, and the system needs to find alternative ways to
present the information to the patient. The similar-
ity step does not found any other device that displays
information in the room, but found a service that re-
ceives text as input and reads it using a speaker, al-
lowing passing the message to the person. The com-
position remains the same because of the abstract rep-
resentation. During the model execution, the methods
can search the most suitable services, this provides a
high decoupling.
4.4 Ontology Advantages
In the present approach, ontologies support the cre-
ation of business process. The main advantages are
(1) To better understand the process model; (2) To
support business process reuse; (3) To facilitate dis-
cussion with other designers or specialists of the pro-
cess model domain; (4) To develop tools which can
make easier the process modelling task; (5) To rea-
son over the ontology and process to verify aspects as
most suitable activities for the patient; (6) To provide
characteristics of the actions (OWL-S), given more
control to the designer, over the activities; (7) To pro-
vide tracing capability as the activities have associ-
ated mark-ups. These advantages of ontologies add
more semantics for the process models. Also, they
help abstracting the technical issues in configuring the
homes, since the designer selects the triplets from the
ontologies instead of program the services.
Figure 1: BPMN Model of agitation behavior.
The scenario is presented by means of a process that
describes agitation behaviour. The process describes
an elderly person that presents mood and behaviour
changes, besides disorientation. Note that this pro-
cess is illustrative, was designed based on the litera-
ture and in group discussions of an Ontology Class
of a Public University located in Brazil (Siang Fook
et al., 2006). In real life this process can present dif-
ferent behaviour, the sample process present the situ-
ation discussed in late of Section 1. The whole sce-
nario of agitation in a BPMN model is presented in
Figure 1. In our research we will change the free text
describing an activity for a markup strategy, this make
easier the task of read the process computationally.
5.1 Modelling the Business Process
The modelling process is extended with our method-
ology; first of all, there will be an ontology providing
the possibilities for the whole process modelling task.
The components used to form an activity are taken
from the ontology by selecting the desired concepts
or actions. To clarify the method Figure 2 presents
an illustrative image of an interface, in which the user
is developing the same model of Figure 1 using our
As we can see in Figure 2, the ontology hierarchy
is loaded at the left, when the user creates a new ac-
tivity, he should choose a subject (concept) from the
tree, this concept will provide some possible actions,
which are presented on the top of the interface. After
chosen the action, only the concepts that make part
Figure 2: IIlustrative interface of a modelling tool.
of this action (objects) will be available on the hierar-
chy. These possibilities of representation of concepts
and interactions are expressed in the ontology and are
loaded by the modelling tool. In the figure it is possi-
ble to realize that a new activity was created (is high-
lighted), the subject chosen was “ResidentialSystem”
and the possible actions were loaded in the list on top
(the action “Send a notification” is highlighted). The
texts that present the actions in the interface are labels
of the relations in the ontology.
The ontology provides the concepts and relations
for the domain in small granularity and the interface
provides the ability for aggregating those concepts
and relations to create activities (triplets). Also, the
modelling tool provides a manner to request new con-
cepts and relations to the ontology developers. The
compositions can be reused in various residences, not
all process must be personalized.
As the quantity of concepts and relations can grow
fast, depending on the domain, strategies based on
patterns for suggesting the next process creation step
will be included. In another paper is described a set
of workflow activity patterns which refers to descrip-
tions of recurrent business functions (Thom et al.,
2009). Some of these patterns can imply in the re-
striction of the next possible activities, for example,
after the use of the pattern X, only activities of the
pattern Y can be used. The modelling tool exports
an XML file that may be processed by the residential
control system.
It is very important for the home care idea that the
systems developed are scalable in the dimension of
multiple locals since one of the main problems for
deploying home assistance is the increasing number
of elder people living alone. If the developed home
care systems will require the same number of people
as the present systems, the implementation of wide
spread home care will be compromised.
This paper described an approach that intends to
reduce the need of a huge number of new person-
nel for the design and implementation of home care
systems. The proposed methodology provides activ-
ities with more semantic to be employed in the pro-
cess model, making easier to understand this model
for persons as well being interpretable by automated
devices. This modelling approach can also be ap-
plied for other domains; we focus on home care in
this work. The use of a service-oriented system is
also interesting since services can be added, removed
or updated enabling the system to be context aware.
We are working to finish the prototype of the tool
for modelling the processes based on ontologies. Af-
ter that, we will work in a prototype for executing the
processes, probably based in an execution language
as the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL).
As future work, we intend to apply more deeply
the BPMN notation, in order to verify how much in-
heritance from ontologies may be applied to model
the process. Moreover the BPMN notation doesn’t
impose much focus in the process execution and a re-
lated study should be done.
This work has been partially supported by Conselho
selho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Cient
e Tecnol
ogico (CNPq) and Coordenac¸
ao de
Aperfeic¸oamento de Pessoal de N
ıvel Superior
(CAPES), Brazil.
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