Workflow and Enterprise Content Management

By: Manuel J. Montesino

A workflow is a sequence of activities that achieve some defined purpose. The purpose can be transforming raw materials into a finished product, or provision of some kind of service, or just processing data into meaningful information. The purpose is achieved through a systematic organization of resources, roles and information flows.

Examples of Workflows

On the factory floor, materials and parts move through different processes to be converted into finished products that are then moved to the warehouse and from there to distribution outlets.

Modern insurance claims processing is a highly structured workflow process that uses information and documents intensively.

The workflow concept has been extended even to the personal sphere where individuals can achieve their goals by clarifying them, identifying the sub-goals, and then applying workflow principles to list, schedule, and do the specific actions that lead to goal-achievements.

The Specifics of Workflows

Processes are workflows with predefined input, output, and purpose. It typically includes a well-defined sequence of activities that accept the input and produce the intended output. Processes are explained through the use of flowcharts that graphically show the inputs, activities, sequences, relationships and outputs, providing both an overview and a look at the details.

Plans document how given goals can be achieved under given conditions. Plans are supported by schedules and resource allocations that add clarity to the means of executing the plan. Workflow processes are then developed to implement the schedules with the available resources, leading to the achievement of the plan goals.

Work-studies are undertaken to identify the essential activities involved in a process that has defined input, output and purpose. The studies typically reveal redundant activities and duplication of effort. By eliminating these, the process can be completed quicker and/or the intended purpose can be achieved better.

Motivational studies add depth to work-studies by considering the participants as humans instead of as robots willing to carry out repetitive tasks endlessly. Work began to be designed in ways that were more satisfying and meaningful to the workers.

Transformation of workflows was brought about by the use of information technology. For example, it was information technology that made possible such low-cost alternatives as just-in-time inventory management and flexible manufacturing systems.

Even now workflow patterns are changing with the widespread use of the Internet and the feasibility of working together even while separated by vast distances. Enterprise Content Management is a step towards this new environment of global, distributed workflows.

Enterprise Content Management Systems

One of the key objectives of Enterprise Content Management systems is to improve the workflows in an enterprise. ECM seeks to help improve workflows in large enterprises through provision of electronic documentation facilities and collaboration tools.

Electronic documentation eliminates the need to move paper documents from person to person or department to department. The documents and persons can be authenticated through the use electronic signatures, where necessary.

Collaboration tools allow participants to conduct meetings and presentations even when they are located at geographically distant places. Many kinds of activities, from strategy formulation to procurement of a needed material can be completed using these collaboration tools.

It thus becomes possible to participate actively in many kinds of workflows sitting at one's own workstation, or while traveling. All that's needed is a connection to the network and authorization to participate.

Conclusion

Workflow studies have led to simpler and faster ways of achieving intended purposes. Enterprise Content Management has evolved to cope with the workflow problems of the large global corporations with widely spread out business operations.

Enterprise Information Systems
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