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- Erich Walter
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College of American Pathologists
Integrated Document Technologies, Inc., Computers - Sys Designers & Consult, Itasca, IL National Federation of Independent Business

Business Process Automation gives you a competitive edge.


Maximize Operational Efficiency, Maintain Regulatory Compliance, and Achieve Accountability.

"Workflow" is a term commonly utilized in an Enterprise Content Management sales cycle, demonstration, seminar, workshop and tradeshows. You will also hear the term "workflow" used to generally describe a specific work process in an organization such as "order fulfillment," "mortgage application approval," or a "new business underwriting" process. Business Process Analysts or Workflow Consultants are seasoned specialists with a high degree of analytical training and with a good sense of business acumen. These BPAs or Workflow Consultants will take apart an organization's business processes to the smallest work step - no matter how seemingly insignificant it might be - looking for opportunities to increase the productivity and efficiency within the organization all while looking for opportunities to mitigate risk and lower overall costs.

Business Process Management (BPM) capabilities include a highly configurable workflow engine that can automate and optimize repeatable business processes. Route documents, automate tasks and rules-based decisions, perform load balancing, send notifications and manage complex approval processes.

At the end of this lengthy, laborious process, the customer will end up with a series of documents that have dissected the business process into a narrative form as well as supplement the narrative with graphical flow charts that depict the flow of work. These narratives and visuals will also indicate whether steps are rather people intensive, currently automated or in need of automation, dependent upon other system or people actions being performed, etc. Usually there will be a "Master Process Map" followed by one or more "sub process maps." (refer to illustration immediately below)

Business Process Management
Click image above for a larger view

If the BPA or Workflow Consultant has been granted full access and disclosure to the proper information, people and systems involved during the analysis process, he or she will have probably identified ways in which the organization can dramatically cut operational costs, improve efficiencies, reduce organizational risk and lower costs. To implement the BPA or Workflow Consultant's recommendations, it will require change and he or she may introduce "Workflow" tools and software that will usually be inclusive of a Content Management Repository.

What is the purpose of Workflow Software? There are four primary objectives behind any good Workflow Software application which can summarized as follows:

  • Distribution of Information
  • Automation
  • Integration
  • Feedback, Control and Monitoring

Let's take a look at each of these components in more detail.

Deliver the right information to the right person at the right time

Distribution is a relatively simple concept when it comes to describing its role within the overall workflow framework: Deliver the right information to right person at the right time. The distribution component is also used to deal with "exception processing" which are those issues/incidents that typically are the most expensive transactions to deal with, consume the most time and usually create havoc for an organization. The goal with Distribution component within workflow is to assure you that your business process delivers the work items and tasks in question to the appropriate automation, integration, people and applicable sub-processes in a repeatable, predictable and scalable manner.

Distribution
automation

Automation is where you will apply workflow technology to: 1) Perform repetitive tasks correctly all the time; 2) Automate complex tasks such as: routing decisions, correspondence generation, issuing triggers due to time or dollar amount values, determining non-business days, company holidays, number of actual work days, dealing with employee and manager vacations etc. and finally; 3) bring consistency to decision making throughout the entire workflow process each day, quarter after quarter, year after year. These are all goals every organization strives to achieve, but when you are people dependent rather than process dependent, it is next to impossible to achieve any one of the aforementioned goals much less of all of them.

applying workflow technology Integration of workflow processes

Integration is where workflow engines via custom programming or scripting can leverage the advantages of distribution and automation components of workflow by evaluating the data contained in the workflow process against your proprietary business rules. Simple examples include: determining amounts, procedure codes, routing content to a subject matter expert, populating fields within an electronic form in which business rules shall be evaluated against, etc. Many of those business rules usually already reside within your line of business system such as an ERP system, line of business system or operations system, etc. Through integration, workflow can tap into those existing rules without having to re-code them yet into another external system, or re-invent the wheel.

In other words, Workflow is more than just simply routing documents!

Workflow software determines who to send information to (via business rules and logic), which pieces of information users needs to see and interact with, and determines the proper presentation of the information - giving the user a unique interface depending on the job function and the task at hand.

typical Accounts Payable process
Click image above for a larger view

Let's take a look at a typical account payable process at a mid-sized organization (see illustration). Don't be overwhelmed by the number of icons, work steps, input/outputs but rather take notice of the overall comprehensive nature of a process map. It's not just a fancy Visio, it actually is a functional process map that depicts in practice how/why/when the AP function within the company actually gets completed on a day to day basis. As a result of undergoing a thorough analysis (with their Business Process Consultant) of their AP process and implementing an integrated Workflow solution with their ERP system (SAP, PeopleSoft, Dynamics GP, etc.) , this organization now has a fully documented AP process, transformed itself from a largely people dependent process, to a highly automated AP process with predictable results, extensive reporting and metrics capabilities and is only now fully accountable to its shareholders, investors, board of directors, and auditors. How is this achieved? Because every action ever taken with any AP related item (or the AP process for that matter) is threaded through this process map in real time. The day an invoice is received by the organization, it is immediately scanned or imported into the system, logged and the number of days it takes to process that single invoice is being counted. Every knowledge worker or automated task that touches that invoice is being accounted for. As that invoice moves through the AP lifecycle process, and as it touches the ERP system via system integration or a 2 or 3 way matching process has been undertaken, all those tasks, work steps, and data integration points are being logged into the Workflow database for reporting and auditing purposes.

What is the end result? No more lost invoices, no more missed discounts, no more delayed payment excuses, no copying & filing costs, no manual routing of paper through an organization. The benefits are almost endless! The AP process is now a predictable, scalable, efficient, cost effective operation and the organization, the department and its people are accountable unlike it/they have ever been in the past.

Example of workflow in an Accounts Payable environment
Click the image above for a larger view

What does the user experience look like? Here is a sample screen shot that illustrates the ERP system in the upper left hand corner, the content directly related to the ERP transaction in question (invoice, PO, Packing Slip and an associated email) to the immediate left of the screen, followed by the AP process map (optionally displayed) so the user knows the context of their work in relation to the overall organization's AP process.

We've just illustrated the power of workflow in an Accounts Payable environment. The basis of the technology and its benefits apply to nearly any pre-defined business process - regardless of the industry. In summary, if your business is in the Insurance Industry and your major pains are felt in the New Business Underwriting area; or you are in the Mortgage Industry and your pains are being felt in the area of accepting New Online Loan Originations or traditional Paper Based Mortgage Applicants; or you are in the Healthcare Industry or any other industry for that matter.

Workflow can help you lower costs, get predictable results, scale your process (without necessarily having to add people) as your business grows and changes. With Workflow automation solutions, you will provide your organization with accountability, metrics and reporting unlike you have ever had imagined or have seen in the past.

Contact us today to learn more about workflow and business process automation solutions that can be tailored to your specific market, including: manufacturing, distribution, health care, franchise operations, hospitality, financial services, professional services, life sciences, pharmaceutical and other markets.


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