Is workflow the same thing as workflow automation? While some people may use these terms interchangeably, there's a world of difference between the two concepts.
Let's start with an examination of how the term "workflow" is used, and what exactly it means.
Subject to a variety of interpretations, “workflow” can mean anything from the steps in a work process to Robotic Process Automation.
It is a fairly general term that can be defined as
- A collection of business processes which collectively serve to accomplish the business objectives of an organization
- An individual business workflow process that is defined to accomplish specific set of business operations (tasks)
How is a workflow different from a process?
A process is different from a workflow because it has well-defined inputs, outputs (i.e. a work-item), and purposes - Whereas workflow refers more generally to multiple related processes.
A workflow process is composed of specific manual and/or automatic tasks that are connected by paths that allow work to flow based on rules defined within each process.
Examples of workflows
Workflows can be as simple as filling out and getting travel requests approved, or as complex as the steps involved in connecting disparate departments to manage inventory.
The traditional processes in a business without workflow automation software are tenuous.
Employees have to physically hand deliver documents, sort through files, and notify people of tasks they need to complete via email, notes and meetings. While the process is defined (which is an improvement), it's still not stellar, because it involves a ton of paper and manual work.
These manual procedures can often be defined, standardized, and set to specific business rules in an electronic environment. This is where workflow transforms into workflow automation, or robotic process automation.
Workflow automation is a defined set of rules required to accomplish a specific goal; the software is able to route tasks through the process to each subsequent step, all the way to the completion of that goal.
Workflow Automation Example
- A salesman incurs an expense and fills out an electronic form directly within the system.
- He takes a photo of his receipt with his cellphone camera and attaches it to the expense form he just completed.
- When he presses the submit button, it is uploaded and deposited into the ECM repository.
- The system recognizes the total amount on the expense form and automatically sends it to the appropriate person for approval prior to accounting receiving it.
- The manager receives a notification on his tablet that an approval must be completed. He opens the form, reviews the receipt, and approves the expense.
- It then gets automatically routed to accounting to kick off the reimbursement workflow and is posted to the appropriate accounts.