August 5, 2020

What is workflow?

By Lee Bourke

Workflow is the movement of documents and information throughout an organisation in-order to make decisions and complete any required processing that they create. . It represents all the steps and the decision making rules that are applied during a business process. It is carried out successively from beginning to end with many decisions made along the way. Workflow management systems provide automation to these processes by controlling the movement of documents based on pre-configured rules. Workflow routes information, documents, tasks, and their associated decision options from one user to another. The chosen workflow path is always unique given the specific context of the situation. These systems allow you to design and implement the decision logic one time and have it systematically applied over and over again as needed.

Database and messaging-based are the two primary types of workflow systems. Database centric workflow systems are unique in that they store all documents and information in one accessible central location. Logged in users are assigned tasks based on their roles and the characteristics of the work that needs to be completed. All the work is completed directly within the system. Messaging-based workflow systems send individual assignments through messaging services or email. Users respond by logging into the system and completing the assigned work. The system tracks the completion of each step and automatically notifies the next user that is required to take some action to move the transaction along in the process. This is repeated until the process has been completed.


The digital age is rapidly eliminating the use and significance of paper documents. Today organizations are eliminating the use of the paper documents and are adopting process automation systems that use digital documents instead. Some of the most common devices that support these systems are:

  • Computer Networks

  • Fax Servers

  • Database software

  • Scanners and Multi-function devices

  • Workflow software systems

  • Internet connectivity and mail services


  • Standardisation– Each step in the process is precisely defined and executed the same way each time reducing human error.
  • Automation– Workflow software automatically routes the right information to the right users consistently and quickly. This provides gains in productivity and accountability.
  • Tracking– Each step and decision is tracked within the system. Errors can easily traced to specific users for corrective action or to identify training needs. By quickly being able to do this you reduce interruptions and costs associated with errors.
  • Centralisation– All documents are managed from within in one single system which saves time routing the work and eliminates duplication of efforts.
  • Reach– With web based services customers, employees, and partners can be provided access to documents and information creating an automated self service solution that significantly reduces operational costs.


  • Workflow systems present documents in a consistent automated format that improves operational efficiency by improving communication and decision making in a structured way. Features associated with workflow systems include:
  • Rules-based decision making- Within the workflow system rules for decision making are configured and saved. As documents enter the system they are evaluated at each step to determine which of the configured rules to apply. Typical rules would include which users need to participate in a decision, which decision options to present to the participating users, and what happens next when any of the presented decisions are chosen.
  • Document routing- One of the productive features of a workflow system is document routing. Within the system documents are routed to users or groups of users in-order to perform assigned tasks. This reduces errors and shortens the time it takes to complete complex processes.
  • Productivity Reporting- Within the workflow system are user activity is tracked and can be used to generate reports. These reports can include the amount of time a users was active in the system, the number of transactions completed, and decisions that where made. This provides data that can be used in performance evaluations and to create incentive compensation plans.
  • Task assignments & notifications- Tasks can be automatically assigned based on the users roles and the application of the system rules. Once assigned the system can also notify the user of the assignment. These productivity features provide load balanced approach to work distribution and creates accountability.
  • Process monitoring and tracking- Workflow management software provides managers and supervisors visibility into workloads, user activities, and volumes. This allows them data that can be used in resource planning , budgeting, and reporting.

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