Workflow: Just What Does It Mean?
Ah, workflow. Walk into any office today, and ask for a definition, and you will get a myriad of responses. Blank stares. Long dissertations. It gets even fuzzier when you cross between business and technical folks. So to get a level set, here is Wikipedia’s definition of workflow:
Wow, that’s a mouthful. So, to make it even more complex in the software world, there is a sea of acronyms and terms (see past post BPM Alphabet Soup ) surrounding applications that encompass workflow, as well as other technical functions.
So let’s get simple. Workflow, in the physical world, is just the way we get work done. The means to an end, or the path to a successful business activity outcome. In the past, that would have been:
- Bob fills out the paper order form.
- He drops it in the sales order inbox at HQ.
- The order is manually routed to Joe, the sales manager for review.
- Joe give it to John the mail clerk to take down to fulfillment.
- And on and on.
But the most important part today, in our technical world, is the interface between people and technology to facilitate new and efficient business processes. So with that said, in the modern workflow application, there are typically 4 pillars:
- Digital Forms – the paper form has now been replaced by a smartform, or intelligent user interface (UI). The UI is now dynamic, and is used in many cases to kick off the whole workflow process.
- Process or Workflow Engine – the engine facilitates the movement of tasks and information throughout the organization. It is the “digital mail clerk” and much more. Notifying, delivering and controlling the entire work process from start to finish.
- Data – the modern organization now houses its information in digital systems, most focused on specific areas. This is the foundation layer on which all workflow occurs, and stores the information required to facilitate a successful process (An example of this data layer is K2’s patented smartobject for workflow and digital forms).
- Reports – As work is being completed, information about the process is made available in the form of reports. It is this insight that provides the ability to incrementally improve process or the flow of work.
Thoughts? Additions? Comments?