Workflow management systems—WFMS—can be used when a business process can be clearly specified in detail. It’ then possible to create WFMS to coordinate business functions and control individual elements. Under a WFMS, each worker has his or her tasks defined clearly and in a timely manner.
Workflows have clear objectives, and are governed by rules and regulations. It has a series of processes, each of which will be defined in terms of its place, person responsible, the role of the person, and any sub processes. Finally, there can be workflow practices represented by the sequence of events, operating procedures, forms, databases, and tools.
Workflows consist of activities, with milestones attached to each. Events such as the start and completion of an activity are recorded, and can trigger other activities. WFMS essentially controls the workflows through setting milestones and monitoring the events.
Examples of Workflows
On the factory floor, materials and parts move through different processes to be converted into finished products that are then moved to the warehouse and from there to distribution outlets.
The processes and sub processes involved can be specified in detail and milestones can be established for each of the activities involved. A WFMS has facilities to schedule the activities, assign tasks, record events, and track progress.
Modern insurance-claims processing is an example of an information-intensive workflow that is driven mainly by documents.
Some Workflow Specifics
Processes are workflows with predefined input, output, and purpose. It typically includes a well-defined sequence of activities that accept the input and produce the intended output. Processes are explained through the use of flowcharts that graphically show the inputs, activities, sequences, relationships, and outputs, providing both an overview and a look at the details.
Policies specify how given goals are to be achieved under given conditions. Both the goals and the rules and regulations are covered here.
Practices include detailed plans supported by Schedules and Resource Allocations, standard operating procedures, and documentation routines.
Work Studies identify the essential activities involved in a process to detect redundant activities and duplication of effort. By eliminating these, the process can be completed quicker and/or the intended purpose can be achieved better.
Motivational Studies add depth to work studies by considering the participants as humans instead of as robots willing to carry out repetitive tasks endlessly. Work began to be designed in ways that were more satisfying and meaningful to the workers.
Information Technology has transformed workflows, by making possible such low cost options as just-in-time inventory management and flexible manufacturing systems.
Even now workflow patterns are changing with the widespread use of the Internet and the feasibility of working together even while separated by vast distances. Enterprise Content Management is a step towards this new environment of global, distributed workflows.
Enterprise Content Management Systems
One of the key objectives of an Enterprise Content Management system is to improve workflows. ECM accomplishes this through better collaboration tools and better knowledge that helps improve business processes.
Workflows include the policies, processes, and practices adopted for achieving specific objectives. Workflows get transformed through work studies and have been improved through the arrival of modern IT. They are being transformed more radically with the use of Web-based systems, including Enterprise Content Management software.