Workflow Management System

workflow management system wms

What is Workflow Management?

Workflow management is all about managing and streamlining workflows for optimal output. Cutting out redundant tasks, ensuring resource availability for all tasks, and streamlining task sequences are the focus of workflow management.

Processes form the core of business operations. Automating key business process workflows aligns business operations more closely to business goals. Workflows are a sequence of tasks that are executed with a goal in mind. Business processes may be broken down into a sequential path of tasks or workflows that are executed to achieve business goals. All the problems faced by a manual workflow system are eliminated by automating processes.

Workflows are building blocks of business processes. A workflow is a series of tasks or actions that are performed in a sequential manner to achieve an end goal.

For example, the procurement process is made up of workflows for purchase requisition, purchase order, and invoice processing. Each of these individual workflows is made up of several tasks like creation, review, approval, and routing to the following process.

What is Workflow Management System?

A workflow management system is a unified platform that integrates several disparate workflow tools into one cohesive application. Using a workflow system, several processes can be automated in a linear sequence according to business rules. Both machine and human-based tasks can be automated by a workflow system.

Business Process Mapping

A workflow system may be defined as a unified platform that streamlines routine business processes for optimal operational efficiency. The most important aspect of the workflow system is the creation of a form that holds data and automates a sequential path of tasks for complete data processing.

A workflow management system is a software platform that automates processes efficiently. Streamlined workflows improve key performance metrics and the productivity of the business.

Why Does Your Company Need a Workflow Management System?

In every generation, change is inevitable but hard to accept. The workforce in the 21st century has grown with computers, laptops, and smartphones. They utilize the power of the cloud to access data on any device and are dependent on their smartphones for work and personal tasks. With such wide exposure to technological advancements, adopting a workflow management system shouldn’t be difficult. It is surprising that several businesses even overlook the need for workflow software or BPM tool for business operations in their organization.

On the contrary, the industry requires a good workflow management system to manage workflows, and monitor, and optimize business operations. A closer look at process workflows reveals redundancies and disconnected tasks. Unorganized tasks result in stacks of files and folders containing documents, receipts, invoices, leave applications, and forms. Even leading high-tech organizations may end up with unorganized documents, and unstructured and disconnected tasks when they do not have a workflow management system in place.

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Here are 6 Reasons Why Your Company Needs a Workflow Management System:

1. Deeper insights into business processes –

a clear mapping of processes in a workflow provides deeper insights into the process workflow. It is not enough if you have well-defined business processes, you also need insights into performance levels and whether the processes are as good as they could be. One of the main reasons why you need a workflow management system is for gaining deeper insights into process statuses and performance. Real-time insights into process performance translate to improvement in the business bottom line.

2. Quicker identification of redundancies –

when you have deeper insights into business processes, spotting redundancies and repetitive processes becomes easy and efficient. Identifying and rectifying redundancies provides several benefits for the business. Instead of spending time on redundant tasks, employees can spend time on tasks that add greater value to the business. The process cycle times are also drastically reduced when redundancies are eliminated.

3. Better Accountability within the team –

lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities leads to chaos and missed opportunities. Added to this when the team is micromanaged by the manager, it brings down the morale of the team. Workflow management systems enable clear mapping of the roles against appropriate resources, which increases accountability within the team. Every team member is clear on what is expected out of them, and is held accountable for the assigned work. Once the roles and responsibilities are clearly laid out by the system, there is no need to micromanage the team.

4. Clearer communication –

poor communication within the workplace is a common issue that does not get due attention. Clear communication is a must because it affects almost all business functions. A workflow system brings deeper visibility into the process flow, which in turn improves workplace communication dramatically. Seamless communication across business processes reduces employee turnover and makes day-to-day operations smoother. A workflow and document management system provides a single source of truth with a centralized repository.

5. Better customer service –

businesses are constantly striving to satisfy evolving customer demands/requirements. Finding ways to improve customer experience is the main aim of businesses. Using workflow management systems to run business operations, streamlines processes and ensures that customer complaints/queries are addressed quickly. When customer queries or complaints are addressed quickly, the quality of customer service improves significantly. The process cycle time is also significantly reduced by automating the customer service function, which improves customer service.

6. Better product or service quality –

the key to delivering quality products and services on time is to have well-defined processes and procedures within the organization. With a workflow management system in place, all the tasks in the process are executed in a streamlined manner, without any repetition or redundancy. Moreover, automating the process workflow also eliminates inconsistencies and errors in the process. When process accuracy is improved, the quality of products and services also increases proportionally. The likelihood of human error is drastically reduced by using a workflow management system.

The Two Main Workflow Types Are

1. Sequential workflows

The completion of a previous step is necessary for the execution of the next step in a sequential workflow

2. Parallel workflows

Multiple tasks are performed concurrently, each one operating independently in a parallel workflow

From a business perspective, workflows may be categorized as,

  • Priority workflows (Finance, HR, IT)
  • Customer-facing workflows (marketing, customer service)
  • Employee-centered workflows (HR)
  • Primary workflows (sales and marketing, Finance, HR, IT)
  • Subsidiary workflows

All the problems faced by a manual workflow system are eliminated by automating processes. A workflow management system is a software platform that automates processes efficiently. Streamlined workflows improve key performance metrics and the productivity of the business.

Workflow automation organizes and prioritizes a sequence of operations based on specific conditions and rules. Workflow management practices aim at analyzing processes and mapping out tasks to detect bottlenecks, and delays, and design a more efficient and streamlined workflow process. Several discrete workflow software tools are combined into a single application that automates human and machine-driven tasks in a pre-defined path. Workflow management systems also help in connecting humans and systems seamlessly to achieve business growth.

Why Should You Consider Using Workflow Management?

According to a recent survey, 31% percent of businesses fully automated at least one operation in their organization in 2020 (from 29% in 2018). In enterprise companies, 94% of professionals believe that they should use a centralized platform to integrate with their program and build workflow automation than rely on several applications.

If any of the following conditions are encountered in your business, you require a workflow management system to improve and streamline workflows.

1. Annoyingly Long Email Chains That Waste Precious Time

The most common and repeated mistake in every organization is that people try to use email as a communication medium for work. It’s meant to transfer information but should be used for short messages. Important work files often disappear in long email trails.

Besides, emails thread all related messages together but your employees will still find themselves with threads that run into 100s of messages, making the communication process inefficient. A workflow program can avoid this by maintaining a single source of truth, keeping track of all changes, displaying the latest version of a conversation thread, and saving precious time spent going through a bunch of emails.

2. Manual Transactions Involving Too Many Spreadsheets and Excel Files

Another common scenario is where too many spreadsheets or Excel files are being exchanged between employees and teams. While GSuite and Microsoft Office 365 try to streamline the process by moving files to the cloud, it still doesn’t sync with an organizational scenario unless you have customizable workflow management software to keep track of the approval hierarchy.

Typically, every shared file folder will have over a dozen Excel sheets and your employees may not know the latest version that they need to work on. A workflow management system could put an end to all this by providing notifications, focusing on the latest version, and reducing the time spent by your employees to have their spreadsheets approved by managers.

3. If Your Workflow is Dominated By Legacy Systems

A majority of organizations still rely on legacy systems that handle their files and documents and audit-related storage. Technology-driven employees, however, prefer modern-day cloud-based architecture to simplify work.

Businesses looking to migrate old data to a new system are haunted by the risk of loss or corrupt files. A cloud-based workflow management system ensures the security and safety of data while businesses transition from legacy to new-age technologies.

4. When You Feel Your Workforce is Working Suboptimally

At some point, most managers, team leaders, and even CEOs might have felt that their workforce is not performing to its optimal capacity. They may have some reasons ranging from the manual way of working to lack of motivation from their employees. The biggest hurdle often is the technical aspects and it is mandatory to support your employees to deliver the best.

Train your employees on new technologies and give them more freedom by using workflow automation software. When important processes like leave management, document management, and the need to wait for the manager’s approval are automated, employees get more time to focus on their most important work. It also works well with vendors and suppliers through processes like purchase approval and invoice automation that result in faster approvals and an efficient supply chain.

5. If You Are Facing Privacy, Compliance, and Audit-Related Problems

Every start-up and established brand is worried about privacy and audit, especially in the current world of social media. Organizations are forced to answer to the government and the public at large when any controversy related to users’ privacy erupts. It is paramount to maintain and audit all changes to memos and documents and store them securely for later use.

It comes as a great relief to organizations when a workflow management system does it all – from tracking every change to a document to generating/approving invoices. It simplifies audits, enforces compliance, and improves privacy, thereby ensuring that all laws of the land are followed strictly.

Features of a Workflow Management System

A workflow management system supports the management of workflows by automating tasks in a workflow for an optimized sequence of operations. An automated workflow system must include the following features:

Process Builder

process flow builder

An automated process flow is built using a process builder. A business process proceeds in a pre-defined task sequence that is governed by predefined business rules and conditions. A process builder illustrates these tasks & rules and identifies whether the task is repetitive, automated, human-centric, or from another system. You can create a custom workflow by using the drag-and-drop option to streamline workflows and replace manual steps with automated tasks.

Workflow Engines

rules engine

The decision-making component of the workflow system is the workflow engine. It makes decisions based on preset business rules. The decisions include actions such as routing requests to a specific user, sending an email notification, calling an external system via an API, or triggering an entirely new workflow.

Reporting Tools

reporting tools

A workflow system stores all the data and metrics captured during the process execution. Data and reports can be displayed on dashboards and can be made available to users. Real-time tracking and monitoring of process flow, request status, and bottlenecks become easy with the reporting tools provided by a workflow management system.

Integration with third-party applications

third party integration

A good workflow management system ought to seamlessly integrate with third-party applications. APIs or webhooks or direct connects can be used to integrate the automated workflow with third-party applications.

Form Designer

formbuilder

Sophisticated, dynamic forms are built using a form designer to gather input from users. The input from the form builder is fed into the process for further workflow processing. Ideally, the visual form designer should provide a wide toolbox of fields and data types to be added and customized.

Self-service interface

self-service interface

The workflow management system must provide a user-friendly interface for employees to log, monitor, manage, and track requests. Once the request is logged, it is routed automatically to Admin, IT, HR, Finance team, or Operations based on the workflow routing rules.

Checklists and Workflows

workflow checklist

If you are thinking that checklists and workflows have similar functions, you are in for a surprise.

Workflow: It is a structured set of tasks that are executed in a pre-set sequence. Every time a workflow is run, a checklist is created. For example: consider the employee onboarding workflow. Each time you run the onboarding workflow for a new employee, a checklist is generated.

Checklists: They are dynamic. Running a checklist creates accountability within your department and empowers you with insight into task statuses.

You can implement conditional tasks in a workflow. Workflows can be easily backtracked to an earlier stage, while it is difficult to backtrack in a checklist.

Understanding Human-Centric, System Centric, and Document Centric Workflows

what is a process

This section highlights the differences between human-centric, system-centric, and document-centric workflows.

Human-centric workflows are those that are run by humans. Tasks like data approval, request creation, and validating information are examples of human-centric workflows.

In the case of system-centric workflows, most of the tasks are handled by machines. These workflows require minimal or no human intervention. Tasks like the creation of financial reports, threshold-based and time-based workflows, etc. are examples of system-centric workflows.

Task management that revolves around documents or data is called document-centric workflows. Creating contracts for leasing workspace is an example of document-centric workflows. The events of a workflow need to be modified on the document and the end result, which is the lease contract captures all the workflow information including digital signatures.

Automated versus Manual workflows

Workflow Mapping

Manual workflows are labor-intensive and ridden with inaccuracies and bottlenecks. Excessive paperwork is another drawback of manual workflows. Humans control the flow of tasks in a manual workflow and it is entirely dependent on the task owner to remember and complete the task.

For example, in the expense reimbursement process, the first step is the submission of the expense claim by the employee to the line manager. The follow-up of the claim is completely dependent on the employee and is done through email. Once approved, the claim details are submitted manually to the finance department for review and approval.

In the case of an automated approval workflow, the reimbursement form is submitted by the employee. This triggers notifications to the appropriate manager for approval. Once approved by the manager, the claim is automatically directed to the Finance team members for review and approval. Once the approval is done, the claim is paid out and an email is sent to the employee on the status of the claim. Tracking claim status is much easier in an automated process and the entire cycle time is significantly reduced.

The use of Excel sheets or spreadsheets is minimal in an automated system. The time and effort spent by the employee in an automated workflow can be measured and improved.

Advantages of Workflow Management System

Apart from the obvious advantage of saving time and effort by automating process workflows, using workflow tools for your business has many advantages. Here are the advantages of automating process workflows:

Improves compliance of processes for audit trails

Compliance with industry regulations and standards is paramount for any business. Processes need to be audit ready with the necessary documentation of various tasks in the process. A workflow and document management system keeps track of the status of all tasks and ensures that the process is documented at all times. Automated processes are compliant with industry standards and regulations, and are always audit-ready.

Improves process productivity and efficiency

A workflow management system cuts out the redundancies and automated repetitive tasks in the process. Eliminating process redundancies ensures that the tasks are executed on time and in a preset sequence according to business rules. The efficiency of the process is greatly improved by workflow automation. Resources that are usually locked for performing repetitive tasks are released for more productive work by automating these tasks.

Streamlines and speeds up internal processes

A workflow management system maps business processes, making it easy to identify bottlenecks and redundancies. Once problematic areas in the process are identified, steps can be taken to rectify or eliminate them. With redundant or repetitive tasks being taken care of, the cycle time is reduced automatically. Lesser redundancies mean faster internal processes.

Mitigates the risk of fraudulent practices and improper approval of requests

Automation of business processes brings about standardization in process execution. The human effort component is reduced when we automate repetitive steps. The lesser the human intervention in a process, the lesser will be the incidence of error and fraud. The risk of fraud in a workflow system is almost nil. An automated process has a clear assignment of roles and responsibilities. The chances of improper approval of requests are greatly reduced in a workflow management system.

Reduces human bias and errors

Repetitive, data-intensive tasks in a business process are automated in a workflow management system. When such tasks are executed manually, the incidence of errors is very high. Moreover, human bias in these processes affects the process outcomes adversely. Automating the workflow eliminates human bias and errors, thereby, process performance is greatly improved.

Ensures efficient tracking of requests

A workflow management system provides users with a bird’s eye view of the status of every process. The status of all tasks are visible to users at all times. Automated workflows enable users to track the status of requests via intuitive user interfaces. Complete data on all the tasks and requests are available on the dashboard, which enables informed decision-making.

Helps identify process bottlenecks and rectify them

A workflow management tool clearly maps out the tasks in the process. The tasks along with their dependencies and sequence of execution are clearly mapped using workflow diagrams or flow charts. These flow diagrams help identify the bottlenecks in the process and find areas of improvement. Flow diagrams can be used to map the “as-is” and “to-be” processes. Once improvement areas are identified, a process map can be developed to map out the new process along with the improvements.

Better align tasks with appropriate skill sets

A workflow management system provides a clear mapping of various tasks in the process along with the skill requirements. Armed with this data, it becomes easy to align tasks with appropriate skill sets.

Drastically reduce paperwork and associated costs

Unlike traditional processes that require a lot of paperwork, automated workflow systems rely on digital technology that does not require any paperwork. The costs associated with creating paper documents, maintaining, and storing them are totally eliminated in a workflow management system.

Monitor the team’s progress against SLAs

In an automated workflow, all the tasks are executed according to a standard set of procedures. The progress of tasks and the overall team’s performance can be monitored at all times and validated against the SLAs of the project.

Better exception handling with business rules

A workflow management system is better equipped to handle exceptions with business rules. Unlike manual systems, automated workflows enable data-driven decision-making while handling exceptions.

End-to-end workflow automation

Build fully-customizable, no code process workflows in a jiffy.

Workflow Management Best Practices

Implementing workflow systems is a company-wide practice that needs to be given due importance by making it an integral part of operational strategy. Here are some workflow management systems’ best practices to follow –

Define workflows clearly

Process improvement requires a clear mapping of the existing business process. Every task in the workflow along with its dependencies, input/output, and skill requirements needs to be represented in the process map. The sign of a good workflow system is when the entire organization is aware of all these workflows. Whether you are automating a workflow or not, it is important to document every workflow in the organization. Workflow and document management systems ensure a clear definition of a workflow and accurate documentation.

Prioritize and streamline workflows

Key business process workflows must be running at optimal levels for good business performance. Workflows must be agile, lean, flexible, and goal-oriented. Process workflows like sales or discount approvals, or employee-centered workflows are crucial workflows that have a direct impact on the business bottom line. These workflows must be streamlined by eliminating redundancies for maximizing performance. Also, these workflows must be prioritized over other subsidiary workflows. Identifying potential areas (tasks) in such workflows that can be automated improves workflow efficiency and performance considerably.

Monitor and optimize workflows

Workflow automation is not a fit-and-forget concept, it needs to be monitored and optimized continuously. Once a workflow is automated by a workflow management system, its performance must be monitored at regular intervals based on key performance indicators. For example, in a sales workflow that has been automated the monthly sales numbers must be compared against the targets to ensure that the process is progressing in the right direction. Any slackening or digression in the pace or path of the workflow must be immediately rectified.

Ensure all team members are on the same page

Before implementing workflow management systems, it is important that all the stakeholders are apprised of all the ensuing changes in the workflow. It is not just enough if all the team members are informed, they need to be trained in the appropriate skill or technology that the new process demands. Once the training is done and they start working on the new process, their feedback must be gathered in order to evaluate their preparedness. Ensuring that team members are comfortable and informed about the new changes is important for the successful implementation of the workflow management system.

Questions to Ask Before You Choose a Workflow System

Choosing the right workflow software is an important business decision. The success of the implementation depends wholly on your choice of the workflow management system. Here are a few questions you need to ask yourself before choosing the workflow solution.

  • What are your business needs?
  • What are the must-have features you expect from the software?
  • How many users will be using the software?
  • When would you be implementing the software?
  • To what extent would you require support?
  • What are the pricing plan options provided?

Having clarity on these questions will help you choose the right workflow management system that puts your business on the fast track to success.

Cflow is a workflow management system that eliminates all the issues that you would face in an organization while bringing about a drastic improvement in performance and efficiency. You can motivate your employees while streamlining tasks and paving the way for the growth of your organization.

When your employees can work comfortably using workflow management software, it improves accountability and reduces errors. It’s the stepping stone to successfully building brand value and a strong customer base.

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