To start with, we suggest a fun game that will allow you to get into the topic of this article. Close your eyes and imagine a mechanism consisting of many different, cooperating elements. Each of them is equally important and each is responsible for ensuring that the gears turn exactly as they should, and the production line delivers products as designed. The proper functioning of this system, and thus the success of the processes set in motion, is made possible by the smooth and coordinated cooperation of each of its parts. The whole machine would work inefficiently and completely pointlessly if not for the proper workflow.
Workflow in NBA style
From the realm of imagination we move to reality – and it will be a hard landing in the “here and now”. As we know, or have guessed, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced not so much a change as a rapid modernization of business processes in many industries. One of the key areas undergoing massive (and lasting) transformation today is enterprise workflow management. Workflow is a phenomenon that occurs in every type of business. Whenever there is an exchange of data between people and/or systems, we are dealing with workflow. Gears are turning, information is circulating between people, departments and programs, and the factory is running despite the circumstances. Well…
An interesting case of the workflow of the Covid-19 era was described in the December issue of Forbes. The case concerned the functioning of the NBA league “in times of pandemic”. The pandemic crisis hit industries dependent on audience participation the hardest, i.e. those related to organizing concerts, congresses and sports events. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, the NBA league was looking for ways to start the season on new terms with the least possible losses. The solution was Ockham’s razor, or “if you can’t play with the public, do it without them.”
But in order for basketball fans to enjoy virtual participation in the game of their favorite team, the NBA had to implement a completely new workflow related to the organization of the event. It wasn’t just about the steps involved in hosting an online event, but more importantly about minimizing the risk of infection among the players as well as everyone involved in producing the game. Since existing systems did not anticipate the new reality, a way had to be found to provide maximum security for the organizational team and athletes. The NBA imposed a “zero-Covid-19” policy on itself assuming full surveillance of all employees, players and their family members and other guests. Tens of thousands of documents were circulated about every person and event. Everything and everyone was recorded. The previous workflow used by the NBA was based on independent applications, so it could not cope with the new challenge. There was no way to ensure the security of such a large event – even if it took place without the public. The league needed to take the next step toward greater automation.
The solution turned out to be a multi-channel workflow, based on a single platform overseeing onboarding and event surveillance. Every verified event participant used an application that acted as a single universal portal. Interestingly, the tool prepared by ServiceNow was based on nine unique workflows tailored to the needs of specific individuals. Each one took into account the participant’s profile including a number of conditions related to the person’s condition upon arrival and throughout their stay. That’s how important an efficient workflow is – especially in this new reality.
Read the article, “How Digital Workflows Helped Save Basketball During the Pandemic“.
Workflows in three parts
To elaborate on the definition given in the intro we can say that a workflow is a way in which data flows between different cells involved in its processing. To put it simply, it is a method of the flow of documents between people dealing with a particular, specified group of activities.
When it comes to business, a workflow manifests itself in three spheres, the first of which is the process, the second of which is the case, and the third of which is the project. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
- Workflow of business processes
Sometimes the set of tasks included in a particular process is so repetitive and predictable that you know from the beginning the path the workflow should follow. An example of such a workflow is the purchase requisition approval process. Even though it has many variations, you can process them within a specific, unchanging pattern.
- Workflow case
Sometimes you don’t know the path to the end of the process. You only learn it in the subsequent stages of data collection. Although the scope of the case workflow may also include any number of elements, it is not based on a specific canvas. Its subsequent stages depend on actions and decisions of a human or artificial intelligence.
- Project workflow
Project workflow is the order of the path, but it is more flexible. You are dealing with this type of workflow when preparing a new version of your website, when you know how the tasks should proceed to achieve a satisfactory goal.
In order to grow and at the same time go head to head with the competition, or even ahead of it, an organization must adopt an effective workflow method. Today, these are the electronic document workflow systems. However, in order for them to function properly and provide the desired performance for the company, they need to develop, enabling modifications of their functionalities – so that they can meet the current needs related to the executed projects. A modern system allows for quick and smooth implementation of necessary changes over time.
As in the cited NBA case, the implementation of an electronic workflow is usually associated with a pressing and urgent need to adapt the data flow to a new, dynamic situation. Most often, this needs to be done as quickly as possible. However, it is not that simple when introducing a new, advanced solution which is usually connected with a long implementation time. The key in this case is the RAD methodology (short for Rapid Application Development), thanks to which the processes related to the implementation and further adaptation of the application to current needs are much shorter. Thanks to RAD, a number of activities are within the reach of the user, so there is no need to involve the IT department or launch complex programming activities. In this way, adding new elements to the ongoing process does not require special rights, and the changes can be seen immediately.
Electronic workflow means, above all, “many things in one place”, which is perfectly illustrated by the NBA case cited earlier. Until now, workflow was associated with the use of various types of software, applications and IT solutions. Some were used for financial and accounting matters, others supported HR department or customer relationship management (CRM), etc. Thanks to their integration, data exchange is automatic and as trouble-free as possible.
Ready-made or tailor-made?
The answer to the above question depends on many factors. One of them is the company’s readiness to incur higher costs. When deciding on very advanced software, created strictly according to the needs of a particular company, one has to take into account the investment in implementation and later updates and modifications. Therefore, if more complex processes are involved, the maintenance of electronic document workflow software alone can generate huge costs. The price for flexibility and the possibility to develop the application and integrate it with other solutions already functioning in the company is also time. Advanced solutions, as we wrote earlier, require learning how to use the system as well as time-consuming implementation. For companies that want to be independent, but at the same time do not operate under huge pressure of deadlines and can afford to spend more, this will not be a problem – for the rest we recommend ready-made products.
When choosing software that facilitates workflow, be guided primarily by the needs of the company, its size and capabilities (both financial and time). A great advantage is the possibility to cooperate with a caring producer, who will take care of the customer, suggesting new solutions, updates and advising not only in crisis situations. Try the best workflow for your company.