Workflow (or “workflow management” to use the more commonly-used terminology in our industry) is a term that many of us have heard. But how many of us really know what it means, specifically in relation to managing information within an organization?
One of the challenges with any technical term is that it can actually be used to describe a number of different use cases, and these often overlap. In addition, a number of adjacent “terms” also exist and overlap - disciplines such as business process management (BPM), process optimization, process automation, and task management being classic examples. So let’s try to keep it simple and describe workflow in real-world terms, with a view to what it can actually do for your business.
Workflow is often defined as the coordination of tasks that make up work performed within a business. This is also called a process, hence the overlap described earlier.
An example of this would be the steps required to arrange a vacation day. This process would start with an employee requesting vacation, which would require approval or rejection from a manager, and would also need to include feedback and responses at various points.
Obviously, this is a very simple situation and many business processes are much more complicated than this. Electronic workflow management tools allow organizations to map these processes, identify potential problems, and ultimately optimize the process to optimize resources and scheduling.
Workflow and Information Management
From an information management perspective, workflow (and workflow management) is all about how to digitize a set of (typically manual) tasks, with the objective of ultimately automating as many of them as possible. Classic examples of this include the management and processing of incoming invoices, employee onboarding, and the management of contracts.
In order to move towards automation a number of elements are typically required:
- A Graphical process designer to enable the user to visually define and manage the process.
- Reporting tools and dashboards that provide details about the progress of multiple workflows, including any blockages.
- Task alerts to inform users when they need to perform work or interact with the workflow.
- On and off-ramps for content and data. This means the ability for users to add documents or data to a workflow, and then the ability to get content or data out during the process.
- Varying levels of permissions. - At the simplest level, some users will be approvers, some requesters, and so on.
Why Worry About Workflow?
Organizations rely on processes to get work done, and they rely on the efficient running of those processes to get work done on time, on budget, and with as little stress and disruption as possible. Workflow management provides the means for a business to better map, manage and streamline their internal processes.
Here are 5 key benefits you can realize by implementing workflow management.
Time and Money Savings
A primary benefit of automated workflows are that they save time. The reduced time to complete a job, in turn, saves the employee time - which means that they can perform other, more productive tasks rather than the repetitive, mundane tasks that have been automated. And by saving time, you are implicitly saving money.
‘To err is human’ and never is this more true that when performing repetitive tasks. Automated workflows result in fewer administrative errors as it largely eliminates the manual (or human) aspect that introduced the errors in the first place. Automated applications do not err or make blunders - fact.
Reports with graphical data for better visualization are a major beneficial feature of an automated workflow. With detailed reports, an organization can identify critical process bottlenecks, easily report on key performance metrics, and ensure the smooth running of multiple workflows in parallel.
Efficient Task Management
By streamlining processes and providing clear reporting, cross process (and even cross-department) visibility is increased. Dashboards, alerts, and reminders help all users to quickly know the status, bottlenecks, and opportunities for process improvement.
Time To Do Some Work(flow)
The digitization of processes within a business is a core part of the digital transformation that 98% of organizations find themselves in the middle of at the moment. Despite being around for many years, workflow management continues to be a fundamental enabler of business efficiencies within every vertical market and geography. No matter which term you use to describe it, getting the most out of workflow automation within your organization should be at the top of your strategic IT plans for now and into the future.