We call them tools because, just like spreadsheets, word processing programs or, for that matter, a hammer, workflow tools can do all kinds of interesting things but won't do anything without at least a little input from you.
In many cases, the term "workflow" is more or less analagous to an electronic version of the old interoffice envelope. If you're too young to remember that bit of office history (congratulations to you), it was an office staple in the pre-email days. When you wanted to get a document to someone else in the company, you'd stick it in a 10 x 12-inch envelope, seal it with a string, scratch off the previous recipient's name and write your recipient's name in the next space on the outside of the envelope.
It sounds primitive in these days of instant communications but eventually--usually once a day--the envelope would get picked up and carried on to the next person's office (or put on a truck to take it there).
Just like with work today, once the document arrived at the next recipient's desk it might actually get worked on or it might end up in a pile of paper on the corner of the desk. When that happened, well, you can imagine it was easy for processes to drag on for what seemed like forever simply because they'd been lost or forgotten.
Eventually, hopefully, the document would be found, acted on, and put it back in another interoffice envelope to be sent on to the next person in the process to start everything all over again.
And, so it would go until everyone did whatever was they needed to do and the process was completed. Often, even simple processes dragged on for weeks--months, sometimes--simply because of the time it took to move between steps.
While the document was moving around there was often no way you, as the requester, could easily know where it was, who was (or was supposed to be) working on it at any given time, or when it might be completed.
Electronic workflow, which is what our tools are all about, is kind of the same except there's no envelope and there's no time between when it leaves my desk and ends up on yours. Oh, and you don't need to know who it goes next because the tool knows that, even if the rules are highly contextual and complex.
Plus, we have extensive security capabilities (not just the string), and oversight (you can see who's dragging their feet on your requests).
And, full-text searching.
And, availability from both the Notes client and the web.
And...well, you get the idea.
Workflow tools allow you to build logic into a form telling it exactly how and when to decide who needs to do what with it. And, that's really the power of these tools: Processes can be based on complicated logic without the folks using them ever having to know anything more than what they're supposed to do with the documents which make it to their in-boxes.
As requesters, or managers, or even interested parties, everyone (within their security rights) can instantly find individual requests and know their current situations. You can see who's already approved a given request, who's
supposed to be working on it right now, and who's left to go.
When documents are approved (or rejected, for that matter), the people who requested them are automatically notified. Interested parties can be notified, too, at any point in the process, even if there's nothing they actually have to do.
So what do the workflow tools themselves do? They make all of this possible. Through easy-to-use interfaces, they let you quickly and easily define the rules for even the most complex processes then follow those rules to control the routing, security and distribution of electronic documents for an almost unlimited number of uses.
Along the way, electronic workflow tools speed up processes (typically, we see 10-to-1 reductions in process times), improve security, and provide oversight capabilties while making it possible for more work to be done by less people.
If your company is not already using electronic workflow tools to build and manage processes, please call us to set up an on-line demonstration to see how easy and, frankly, inexpensive it can be to significantly improve your organization's paper processes. We can be reached 614-884-4280, or via email.
More information about our workflow tools can be found by following the links below.