Workflow: Just What Does It Mean?
Workflow. Walk into any organization today, and ask for a definition, and you will get a ton of different responses. Blank stares. Long explanations. It gets even fuzzier when you cross between business and technical folks. So to get a level set, here is Google’s definition of workflow:
Seems simple, huh? So, in technical terms, there is a sea of acronyms and terms 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 software application, there are typically 4 components:
- Digital Forms – the paper forms have now been replaced by digital forms, or intelligent user interface (UI).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.
- 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.
Confusing workflow and BPM? See our post: Gears of Workflow: BPM, BPMS and iBPMS
Thoughts? Additions? Comments?