(2004), "Enterprise workflow", International Journal of Productivity and Performance Management, Vol. 53 No. 6. https://doi.org/10.1108/ijppm.2004.07953faf.002
Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Enterprise workflow is one of the technologies being adopted by UK organisations to make a fundamental difference to the way that business processes are designed and operated.
Workflow – the electronic scheduling and delivery of processes – is a technology that has been around for a long time. It is closely associated with document management and is used to automate the movement of paperwork around a business, ensuring that processes are progressed in the most efficient way. The concept is simple – workflow aims to get the right piece of work to the right person at the right time.
Workflow is often implemented as a “back office” task, where it is used to automate the handling of large volumes of paper that administrators tend to generate. The newer concept of enterprise workflow focuses on the activities of an organisation as a whole.
Enterprise workflow enables all of the agenies involved in a process – or delivery of a service – to talk to each other in a co-ordinated manner; it ensures that the logical steps required to deliver the service take place. Used properly, it focuses on the process of delivering the service, rather than the underlying technology.
Enterprise workflow is now hitting the UK public sector. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has recognised the importance of enterprise workflow to its E-government and Council of the Future initiatives and has provided £3.378 million of funding for an enterprise workflow national project (EWNP). Led by Knowsley, the EWNP has the active participation of a number of councils – St Helen’s, Sedgemoor, Tower Hamlets, North Wiltshire, Bromley, Harlow and Croydon, as well as the Institute of Public Finance and PA Consulting Group. Work is progressing on a toolkit, which will provide councils with guidance and resources to assist in the implementation of enterprise workflow.
There are two key elements to the implementation of enterprise workflow. First, its ability to codify the way in which processes are carried out. A rules engine is used to ensure that processes progress in the correct order. If there are particular sign-offs that need to be obtained, or information from other departments is needed, then it is the role of the rules engine to make sure these are automatically requested and that the process moves on when the information arrives. The workflow system will also feature functions such as automatic escalation, as deadlines approach and dynamic routing locates the most appropriate place for the work to be done.
The second key element, and the differentiator for enterprise workflow, is its ability to sit above the activities of individual departments and link together all the parties needed to progress a task. As this can extend outside individual organisations, it goes a long way towards producing the joined-up government we all seek.
As part of its ability to sit above the organisation, enterprise workflow helps in providing technology independence. It can be implemented in such a way that its users do not need to know the details of the underlying systems that will support their activities. This not only ensures that the users are free to focus on the processes, rather than the technology, but also means that enterprise workflow can be implemented gradually across an organisation. This allows it to link in elements gradually as required, rather than having to go for the big bang approach forced on councils by other technologies.
The theory looks sound but only time will tell whether enterprise workflow represents a real revolution or just the latest passing productivity fad!