CalConnect: 7 Things You Should Know About Tasks

  1. What is it?

    A "task" is a representation of an item of work assigned to an individual or organization. In RFC5545, Internet Calendaring and Scheduling Core Object Specification (iCalendar), these are "VTODO" calendar components, groupings of component properties and possibly "VALARM" calendar components that represent an action-item or assignment. Tasks (aka VTODO's) have been part of the iCalendar specification since it was adopted in 1998 as RFC 2445.

    Tasks may be components of a business process or workflow. Tasks, ad hoc or formal, may be components of projects and other collaborative efforts, but they are most familiar in personal "to-do" lists.

  2. What scenarios and/or problems does it address, or what new advantage(s) does it confer?

    The present calendaring standards provide interoperability for exchanging tasks and essential task information across disparate software systems.

    These standards are best positioned to support personal communication and collaboration tools that provide independent task (or to-do) lists, and provide reasonably good integration with standards-compliant calendaring systems. Indeed, the current standards provide a good foundation for a comprehensive task management platform. However, extensions are required in certain areas in order to increase the usability of the standards across a wider range of scenarios.

    Although a variety of proprietary task-related applications exist today, there is little or no interoperability between them, or integration with other applications. A standards-based approach, built upon calendaring and scheduling standards, allows such interoperability, and offers the potential for broad integration with other applications and services.

  3. How does it work?

    iCalendar VTODO's ("tasks") are represented as calendaring components which have much in common with events – start time, end time (or duration), the possibility of recurring according to a schedule, location, organizer, attendees (or participant), etc. However tasks have other standard properties, such as the notion of completion status which may not pertain to calendar events.

  4. Who's doing it?

    Task support, both proprietary and standards-based (iCalendar), is implemented across a range of systems and software products, such as Calendaring Products, Business Process Management Systems, ERPs, Project Management Systems, and Scheduling Tools. However, with the increasing pervasiveness of smart phones and tablet, we are seeing explosive growth in the development of apps and cloud offerings to manage "personal" tasks, as it were.

    Other organizations are involved in the area of task specification, and have developed complementary standards, e.g. the OASIS specification WS-Human Task.

  5. Why is it significant?

    The need to schedule and communicate tasks arises in many situations both within organizations and in our personal lives. Business processes, which may require many steps or sub-tasks, include the transportation and delivery of goods and packages and the automation of factory manufacturing processes.

  6. What needs to be done, and what is CalConnect doing?

    The existing calendaring standards provide a foundation for communicating and scheduling tasks, but do not readily support domain specific tasks. Other standards, such as WS-HumanTask, have focused on the definition and communication of tasks in a specific problem area but lack the broad capabilities to provide a unified means of task management.

    We need to extend the functionality of the iCalendar family of standards, specifically the VTODO object model, to provide enhanced support for tasks for project management, smart power grids and business task scheduling, in a way that integrates calendaring, scheduling, and task management with automated systems and processes. Such scenarios may not imply or require an explicit human operator. However we also need to allow calendaring clients to display and change task data for human centred tasks and to manage task progress.

    To achieve these objectives, extensions are required to task states, and additional support for task specific data and relationships between tasks. Other requirements, such as handling of comments, which are common to tasks and events, may be addressed separately.

    CalConnect has chartered a technical committee (TC TASKS) to lead this work. To date TC-TASKS has developed the following:
    • Tasks Architecture - The reference architecture for task management and communication against which the extensions are being developed
    • Draft RFC Support for iCalendar Relationships - Extensions to the iCalendar object model to enhance the ability to relate tasks (VTODOs) and other iCalendar components to each other as well as to non-iCalendar entities
    • Draft RFC Task Extensions to iCalendar - Extensions to the Internet Calendaring and Scheduling Core Object Specification (iCalendar) to provide improved status tracking, scheduling and specification of tasks

  7. What are the implications for calendaring and scheduling?

    The boundaries of calendaring and scheduling are defined and expanded by the requirements and expectations of consumers, social groups, and enterprises. Extension to standards concerning tasks is a natural development that will increase the interoperability and capability of tools that manage calendars and schedule tasks.

    Over the last decade, the emphasis in developing calendaring standards has been on events and event scheduling. However, there is now an opportunity to build on this calendaring and scheduling platform to provide greater task support, enabling broader integration and utility for collaborative and systematized processes. Extending the standards with respect to tasks will allow us to open up the true potential of our calendaring and scheduling systems, as well as integrating with the "Internet of Things?.

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Calendaring and Scheduling Glossary of Terms

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