In the recent past, the development and application of workflow management systems has created so much euphoria among research professionals, system developers, and end users. Generally, workflow is a term commonly used to refer to the sequence of steps followed when undertaking a job task. It is a simplified view of the different activities that must be carried out as part of a major project. Usually, an individual or group may be assigned a step within the process cycle. Those responsible for the various stages must thus do their part well if the process has to be successfully completed.
A workflow management system is a computerized system designed to assist project managers with the smooth running of project activities. Often, the design of workflow management systems is such it can used to meet different job requirements. Ordinarily, the application of workflow management systems requires the involvement of different groups including system modelers, administrators, supervisors, and end users. The success of a workflow management system thus depends on the efforts made by the different groups.
Over the years, technological advancements have completely transformed the way projects are managed. Users are thus presented with numerous workflow applications that may be applied to different situations depending on the task to be accomplished. Typically, workflow management tends to be concerned with work processes and written documents. Nevertheless, the importance of documents can not be underrated. They are very critical in situations where workflows management systems have to be integrated with programming languages. In general, a workflow management system helps to improve the management of projects. It also helps to ensure consistency in the way project tasks are undertaken.
Components of a Workflow Management System
A workflow management system is made up of three vital components. First, there is a section that is concerned with inputs into the system. This section is designed to accept all the critical requirements needed to complete a given project task.
The next component consists of the rules that are needed to necessitate the transformation of inputs into expected outputs. While these rules are critical during the processing stage, they are only used in situations where several alternatives exist and a choice must be made to follow the correct execution path. This step is further streamlined by mechanisms that help in the selection of appropriate rules. The third component is concerned with the production of the output at the end of a given step. In some instances, the output at this point may serve as input to an adjacent step in the sequence. All the three components of the workflow management system are designed and connected to create a smooth flow of operations and to ensure perfect coordination of the separate parts.
Types of Workflow Management Systems
Arguably, the term workflow has not been well defined. This notwithstanding, workflow management systems may be categorized broadly into four categories. Generally, the classifications are based on what the workflow management system is designed to accomplish.
Administrative workflow management systems are designed to help with the management of clerical processes in an organization. Workflow systems in this category are meant to automate processes that require forms to be filled and passed from one step to the next.
While ad hoc workflow systems may be similar to administrative systems, they are mostly designed to deal with unique cases that may be encountered from time to time. Usually, these are activities that pop up when least expected and must be undertaken.
The collaborative category of workflow management systems includes systems that are designed to help different participants interact while undertaking joint tasks. An example is where participants have to work on a project and each person has a critical part to play which contributes to the development of the overall product.
Finally, production workflow management systems are designed to help with the implementation of project activities. By and large, these systems deal with core processes in an organization. Unlike administrative, ad hoc, and collaborative workflow systems, production systems are quite complex and extensive.
While administrative workflow management systems deal mostly with repetitive tasks, production, collaborative and ad hoc systems are designed to deal with unique operations. Seemingly, workflow management systems may also be classified based on the technology in use. As such, mail-centric systems are concerned with the management of electronic mail, document-centric systems deal with documentation, and process-centric systems are similar to production workflow management systems.
Contemporary Application of Workflow Management Systems
As has already been explained, workflow management systems are useful in simplifying and improving the management of projects in organizations. They play a big role in expediting day to day activities and creating a healthy work environment that also serves as a motivator for employees. As a result, developers have come up with numerous workflow management systems and organizations are going after them to increase their competitiveness. Although very useful, workflow management systems have limitations. They are mostly designed with poor fault tolerance mechanisms, are not easily scalable, and can not be integrated with other workflow management systems.
Apparently, the application of workflow management systems provides organizations and users with vital tools to undertake operations. Among other benefits, the use of these systems has greatly smoothened operations, motivated users, and increased the level of productivity. Workflow management systems also facilitate the creation of a work environment where employees can collaborate with one another when working on joint tasks. While doing so would be challenging in the olden days, it is now possible thanks to technological advancements. Networking, for example, enables the creation of distributed systems that enable users to easily collaborate.
Largely, the use of workflow management systems is meant to make project tasks run more efficiently. Typically, the different processes in organizations appear in the form of workflows indicating how various steps are linked from the time a process starts until completion. Workflow systems are thus designed to indicate all the parameters needed to complete project tasks. Customarily, the parameters included help to capture critical requirements such as customers’ details, order of execution, and important security checks at different stages until the project is completed. Ostensibly, the success of workflow management systems has led to the development of numerous products that have greatly helped to improve the management of projects in organizations.
Considering the numerous classifications of workflow management systems as earlier discussed, it is clear that they can be very helpful in the management of projects. Administrative systems make it [possible for a project team to coordinate its repetitive tasks smoothly and thus ensure efficiency and clarity of task requirements. Similar to administrative systems, the use of ad hoc workflow systems help when dealing with exceptional activities that must be undertaken by a project team. Collaborative systems are critical in facilitating smooth communication among participants working on a common task.
Using collaborative workflow systems, employees working as a team are able to communicate easily and keep track of what other team members are doing. In case of any disparities, it only takes a short time to resolve and move on. Essentially, these systems help in streamlining the decision making process. The use of production systems on the other hand ensures that the requirements of project deliverables are fully met.
Comparing the Application of Workflow Management Systems
In the United Arab Emirates, workflow management systems have been used to improve performance in different sectors of the economy including medicine, hospitality, and production. They have been used in hotels to simplify various aspects of communication between management and other employees. Operations have been streamlined through automation of repetitive requests and reducing manual work. In some instances, workflow management systems in UAE have been used to put a tight control on expenses. Apparently, a number of things may go wrong when documents are handled manually. The use of workflow management systems thus eliminates these difficulties and creates transparency in the process of tracking documents and transactions.
Some workflow management systems also simplify the protection of document though the inclusion of check in and check out options. These important options make it possible to check in and out of documents and to ensure that only authorized users can make changes when needed. Workflow systems have also been used in UAE to support the production and distribution processes, indexing, and safety control.
Similar to the United Arab Emirates, workflow management systems have been used in other parts of the world to streamline the entire process of project management and to ensure efficient accomplishment of project milestone. Projects such as complex medical surgeries, analysis of the stock market performance as well as risk and financial analysis often require collaboration at a very high level. The use of workflow management systems improve the collaboration process and ensure smooth communication that eventually leads to the realization of intended project outcomes. Ostensibly, most workflow management systems are designed to be used by anyone regardless of their level of expertise.
Limitations of Workflow Management Systems
To a large extent, workflow management systems have been associated with improved performance and delivery in organizations. As noted earlier, however, they are limited in a number of ways. First, the systems are often developed without a good understanding of the critical needs of end users. To address this challenge, it is imperative for developers to spend enough time to understand how a given organization carries out its work. The flow of activities and what is to be done at every stage must be quite clear to the developer before serious development task can ensue.
Current workflow management systems are also incompatible and thus create a challenge for users mostly interested in interoperability. It is thus necessary for developers to focus of coming up with systems that accommodate other systems. In addition, most workflow management systems have been designed for smaller groups and hence, their application to a larger environment is not easy. Users who have attempted to subject workflow systems to larger environments have often get frustrated.
Workflow management systems also fail to meet important security requirements of business enterprises and users. Since security is an important consideration for organizations in the present business environment, it is necessary for developers to think of strategies of developing robust systems. Another important requirement is fault-tolerance. Obviously, loss of data in an organization is more painful than the theft of equipment. As such, workflow management systems must be developed in a way that ensures the safety of project data.
As has been explained in this paper, the use of workflow management systems improves the quality of work, motivates employees, creates a healthy environment for better collaboration, and boosts integrity check during the processing cycle. Unlike in the past, organizations can now perform tasks much faster and more efficiently.
Despite being so successful, however, workflow management systems are yet to reach the expected level of performance. Their reliability and robustness are questionable and it is imperative for designers to address important security concerns raised by users. Workflow management systems are also not scalable and difficulties may be experienced when attempting to inter-operate different workflows systems. It is thus necessary for developers to also consider ways of dealing with these challenges.
Considering that workflow management systems are mostly developed to ensure the success of projects and business operations, it is common to have several workflows running concurrently. It is thus a requirement that workflow management systems must be able to support increased workloads. They must be scalable enough to address the challenges that may result due to work demands. This is to ensure that project tasks continue uninterrupted and that no delays are experienced at any point through out the life of a project. A workflow management system that is scalable guarantees reliable performance even when there are changes in work demands.