Innovate and accelerate: The brave new world of workflow management systems

In today’s fast-moving economy, as companies split, merge, change and develop, it’s increasingly necessary to have a tool that can track, manage and coordinate tasks across an entire organisation; provide visibility into the business; and foster collaboration and innovation.

Forrester’s Business Process Management Playbook states that “in the midst of continuous change – from customer, technology and competitive forces – enterprise architecture professionals must become skilled at transforming processes while improving their agility in executing changes.” By finding a way to connect people, processes and technologies, CIOs can help their companies not only survive, but thrive.

Organisations should be in the market for a workflow management system when their businesses have become too complex to be casual about their processes. Once a company has determined that it needs a workflow management system, there are some critical considerations when choosing a solution.

What to Look for in a Workflow Management System

In my experience as a CTO, a workflow management system (WMS) must help employees be more effective by allowing tasks to be delegated, grouped and balanced across different teams. Every organisation has a structure – some employees may have admin rights or different clearances than others – and a workflow management system needs to accommodate a variety of organisational structures through role-based accessibility.

Visibility is critical to ensuring each task is progressing correctly and on time, and can help find any breakdowns in the process or recurring issues. A WMS should have some kind of task board or process management console. Managers use such dashboards to view progress toward goals, and can see at a glance the tasks in progress, the completed tasks and the ones that have not been touched. This assists in delegation or reassignment of projects.

Without visibility, it can be hard to correct workflow issues or optimise project management because managers cannot identify problem areas or departments. A system that sends updates and notifications on task progress or assignments via email or through the system will create efficiency by ensuring everyone is on the same page at the same time.

A workflow management system needs be flexible enough that changes can be made on the fly. No day is ever the same, and a CIO needs to ensure tasks will still move forward and projects will be completed even in the face of change, whether for basic procedures like reassigning a task if an employee calls in sick, or major projects, like the launch of a new product or service. A system that is not flexible does not account for the inevitable fluctuations of every company’s staff and processes, which is unrealistic, and will hurt the speed in which products and services get to the customer.

The ability to automate some processes is another important quality. In an internal study of SpringCM’s customer base, by adopting a form of workflow automation, customers can see productivity and process gains of up to 40 per cent. Some tasks are repeated often; creating a standard template for these, so that an employee needs only to follow the steps to complete them, allows a company to become more efficient and consistent and removes uncertainty. This can also assist in onboarding new employees; if there is a standardised process for something, the employee does not need to wonder or ask multiple times how to do it.

The system should be able to adapt to and integrate with new workflow process technologies that enter the market, as integrating the workflow management system with other mediums and third-party tools will allow the organisation to be more productive. An open standard approach allows diverse systems and devices to be added to the workflow management processes by being integrated smoothly into APIs.

Finally, the system must be highly agile. We exist in an age where two people in a garage can come up with a solution that can put another company out of business, so the ability to be – and stay – agile is imperative. Once a company has captured the attention of existing users, staying dynamic will keep the customers engaged and maintaining subscriptions or buying products year after year.

A workflow management system connects people and departments and creates cross-functional teams of different disciplines to foster collaboration, which will naturally breed innovation. By providing the means and mechanisms for a team to reduce inefficiencies, create visibility into task delegation and completion, and automate less critical processes, the team does not need to focus as much on day-to-day workflow management. This puts the company in a better position to zero in on the higher goals of creating good products or services faster and providing more relevant features to the customer base.

Challenges with a Workflow Management System

A CIO can run into challenges when trying to juggle efficiency and security. Fusing a workflow management system with other cloud applications or new tools of the trade can be a boon to company output, but CIOs need to ensure that everything can be integrated according to procedure and keep a handle on the different types of services and devices working together.

Additionally, companies need to ensure that all devices and programs adhere to security and compliance processes for the organisation or for customers. This is not something to be taken lightly: A few years ago, at my company, we realised we had six times as many outside devices being used at the workplace as we did company computers, and we had to find a way to ensure these ancillary devices were compliant with our processes as well as those of our clients. Having policies in place will allow some devices and applications to connect to more sensitive content while others are shut out.

Another challenge is Big Data analytics. All employees, software and processes generate data that can be captured and analysed, and a lot of CIOs have started thinking about a Big Data analytics strategy – how to gather this information and make sense of it to gain visibility into a business, become more efficient in getting products or service to customers, and boost the bottom line.

Some workflow management systems have tools that can analyse data and generate reports; there are other technologies as well that may be useful to integrate to extract this kind of information from people and devices. Mining and analysing data can add transparency and optimise a workforce by revealing process inefficiencies.

Advice and Lessons Learned

For a CIO, finding new ways to reduce costs and accelerate revenue while making the company more efficient and effective is the No. 1 priority, and workflow management technologies can become a part of this process.

My advice for a CIO looking to integrate a workflow management system is:

  • Look for a cloud-based technology, as that will speed implementation, make it easier to integrate other tools and can reduce costs.
  • Clearly define any “bring your own device” strategy; otherwise, you may pay for it through loss of security.
  • Secure your organisation – determine who has access to what and keep track of it.
  • Make the right hiring decisions. Employees are the backbone of any organisation.
  • Keep the team up to date with the latest technologies to ensure they are at their peak efficiency.
  • Ensure any outside technologies are integrated into a workflow process in a cost-effective, secure and sensible manner.
  • Avoid one-trick ponies; look for a workflow management system that has diverse functions.
  • Be aware of your technical debt, and know when it’s time to change code or architecture.

The right workflow management system can do wonders for a company by facilitating connectivity and consistency.

A workflow management system that allows flexibility and agility will ensure a high-functioning, efficient organisation, which will translate into better products or services for the customer.

Dr. Antonis Papatsaras, chief technology officer for SpringCM

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