Thursday, December 10, 2009

Introducing Workflow Automation

To that end, a built-in or an external standalone add-on tool (or capability) that can be used to solve the process automation problem is called workflow automation (or workflow management). Some will refer to it as business process management (BPM), and we will shortly try to point out the differences between the two – i.e., workflow and BPM.

Traditional enterprise applications typically feature some built-in functionality, such as a human resource management system (HRMS) or a procurement application, with some capability to tailor the base functionality through parametric configuration options (e.g., via “order types” that entail different mandatory and optional “order steps”) that users have to learn by heart.

To be fair, some enterprise applications have introduced workflow capability into their products to give users some ability to control the process behavior of documents such as an invoice or an engineering specification. But in most enterprise applications workflow is implemented through hard-coding, which means that programmers must develop and maintain the code.

In addition, workflow automation of the typical enterprise application is generally limited to a single document or task routing. This usually means that companies implementing an enterprise application must choose between accepting the vendor’s pre-built business process behavior or paying the vendor dearly to make expensive modifications to accommodate more complex processes, which will then make upgrades either costly or impossible.

In contrast, a specialized workflow tool enhances a single task and/or document routing by providing an integrated capability to include rich user interfaces (UIs), system integration, rule processing and event handling.

Rules are necessary to determine which path users should take next in a process that has multiple possible paths, e.g., an order worth less than US$1,000 does not need manager approval, but over that amount it does. On its part, an example of event handling would be a necessary step after a product recall: a “pull from shelves” notification must be sent throughout the distribution channels.

These capabilities can be pretty powerful, since in general, if users can come up with a standard rule that specifies when a particular event should happen, they can make it happen automatically with workflow. In other words, workflow becomes the magic ingredient that transforms many traditional transactions-capturing applications from a glorified database into fully functional tools that basically everyone in the company should find useful.

No comments:

Post a Comment