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Workflow Management

Workflow Management

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Published by: indoexchange on Jul 07, 2010
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A simple definition of workflow is that it is a collection of related tasks that arecollaborated on by multiple resources. A workflow engine controls the execution of adefined business process. The sequence of tasks constituting a workflow couldexecute over a period of a few milliseconds or run for months. Typically, businessprocesses last from a few minutes to several days. Because of this, workflows can bethought of as long-lived transactions.The concept of workflow has been around for quite some time, however it hasevolved considerably since its early days. Technologies like Java, XML, and the webhave made it easier to define and exchange information across applications. Thegrowth of the web has also had a major impact on workflow, since there is now aubiquitous platform to interact and participate in workflows. This empowersbusinesses using workflow and makes workflow-based tools especially useful. Asbusinesses utilize the web more dynamically for e-commerce, and for interfacing withcustomers, partners, suppliers, and employees, the use of workflow technologybecomes imperative. Using workflow encourages a business to capture and definethe processes it uses. Drala Workflow Engine makes it easy to modify processdefinitions, which enables a business to evolve processes and respond to marketdynamics.An example of a order processing workflow that can be automated is shown above.Each node in this workflow represents a task. Tasks can depend on other tasks, like
requires the completion of 
Order Placement 
before it can start. Sometasks can proceed in parallel, like
Inventory Check 
Customer Credit Check 
. Tasksmay be automated (
Customer Credit Check 
for instance), or they may requiremanual processing. In general, a workflow could have a combination of automatedand non-automated tasks.
Workflow Defined
We define workflow as:"
 Any task 
performed in
series or in parallel 
two or more members
of a workgroupto reach a
common goal.
"Note the words with emphasis:
 Any Task 
: Which implies that workflow refers to a very wide range of businessrelated activities.
Series or in Parallel 
: Which implies that steps in the task may be performed one afterthe other, or simultaneously by different individuals, or a combination of the two.
Two or More Members
: Which implies that if only one person performs a task it is notworkflow. As the workflow name suggests, a task is workflow if it "flows" from oneindividual to another.
Common Goal 
: Individuals participating in workflow must be working towards acommon goal. If they are working on independent projects, that does not constituteworkflow.Since this definition may include tasks related to the physical production of goodsalso, we use the term "business workflow" to emphasize that we are talking aboutthe automation of tasks other than manufacturing. We use the term "workflow" and"business workflow" interchangeably throughout this document to refer to non-manufacturing workflow tasks.
Examples of Workflow
Given the definition of workflow there are a very large number of business activitiesin a organization which fall in the workflow category. These include :
Purchase Orders
Capital Appropriation Requests
Employee Performance Reviews
Weekly Time Sheets
Loan Approvals
Claims Processing
Capital Appropriation Requests
and many
Structuring a Workflow Process
A workflow process is created as follows:1.Define an activity, or task, which a workgroup needs to perform and thebusiness rules governing the activity.2.Break the task down in into "sub-tasks," also called "steps." Each steprepresents a well-defined list of things which are to be performed by oneindividual and which are logically done together. A task may be broken intosteps in many different ways. This is where business judgment is required todecide where to split a task into its component steps.3.Decide the skill sets required to perform each step. This will specify the jobfunction(s) or individual(s) who may be called upon to perform the step.4.Identify all external applications used to complete the task and determine if there are manual steps that can be automated as part of the workflow.5.Decide the sequence in which the steps have to be performed.
6.If some of the steps are performed on a conditional basis, identify these stepsand define the conditions.7.Lay out a "map" of the workflow which identifies the steps and the sequence,or "flow" in which the steps are to be performed. Associate job functions orindividuals with each step.8.Create the forms, documents and instructions which will be used by theindividuals at each step to perform the sub-task.As you will notice, workflow involves a sequence of steps or a "process." The task"flows" from one step to another based upon pre-defined rules and conditions. Thatis why the term business workflow is often interchanged with the term "businessprocess," or simply a "process."
The Problem with Workflow Today
Before the advent of workflow automation, all workflow was manually implemented.Typically the steps in a task required the participants to review a file with forms anddocuments. After a participant has completed the review and filled out the pertinentsections of the form, the file containing the form and documents was manuallyrouted to the person who has to perform the next step. The participants were trainedabout the rules which dictate the routing, or instructions were provided in the filefolder itself. To track the status of the task one had to go around and ask where itwas. There was no easy means of finding tasks which are late, or lost in thepaperwork. And no one had any idea about the cost of the process.So the major problems with manual workflow are as follows:1.High dependence on paper.2.Labor intensive3.Susceptible to tasks "falling through the cracks"4.No easy way of tracking status5.No means of measuring process time and cost statistics
Workflow Automation
The pervasive use of Personal Computers, networks and e-mail has made it possibleto automate workflow. Computer software provides an excellent means of replacingpaper forms with intelligent electronic forms. Databases provide a means of storingvast amounts of information which used to reside in file cabinets. Networking hasspawned e-mail, which in turn provides an excellent and almost instantaneousmeans of routing information. And, finally the inherent computing capability of computers provides a virtually unlimited resource to control, monitor and measureworkflow processes.
Essential Ingredients of Workflow Automation

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