Workflow Management

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WORKFLOW DEFINED A simple definition of workflow is that it is a collection of related tasks that are collaborated on by multiple resources. A workflow engine controls the execution of a defined business process. The sequence of tasks constituting a workflow could execute over a period of a few milliseconds or run for months. Typically, business processes last from a few minutes to several days. Because of this, workflows can be thought of as long-lived transactions. The concept of workflow has
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  WORKFLOW DEFINED 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 Validation requires the completion of  Order Placement  before it can start. Sometasks can proceed in parallel, like Inventory Check  and 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  by 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 : ã Purchase Orders ã Capital Appropriation Requests ã Employee Performance Reviews ã Weekly Time Sheets ã Loan Approvals ã Claims Processing ã Capital Appropriation Requests ã and many more   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  Workflow automation is becoming a buzzword. There are numerous products in themarket that claim to be workflow enabled. Vendors take the liberty to label theirproducts workflow-enabled if they support rudimentary E-mail routing capabilities intheir applications. However, the difference between such capabilities and workflowautomation is the same as the difference between text editors and word processors.We believe that to be classified as a workflow automation solution, an applicationmust have the following key ingredients: ã A means of designing workflow maps, preferably graphical. ã The ability to design the electronic forms for each step in the workflow map. ã The ability to incorporate external applications as part of the workflowautomation. ã The ability to link electronic forms to enterprise databases. ã The ability to design workflow maps with conditional routing and functionsbased on complex business rules, preferably without programming. ã The ability to route the information gathered at each step to subsequent stepsbased upon job functions, user names, or reporting relationships. ã The ability to monitor the status of workflow. ã The ability to measure workflow. ã The ability to simulate and test the behavior of workflow ã A workflow application must support many users and be highly reliable ã Workflow must be accessible internally and over the Internet and from a widevariety of platforms. Benefits of workflow  Automating processes using workflow results in improved efficiency and increasedthroughput. Furthermore the discipline that is enforced by a workflow engine resultsin more predictable system behavior since things don't fall through the cracks.Process-based integration of systems makes it possible to automate processes whichpreviously was either not possible or required unnatural data sharing. This reducescosts, streamlines processes and results in better process management and tracking.Resources can be used more optimally with motivated team members focussed onbusiness priorities which match their skills. Dynamic monitoring of processes as wellas auditing of processes becomes possible. Using Drala Workflow Engine impliesreaping these benefits without having to expend a lot of effort, since the enginemanages the process for you.
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