The Case for a Workflow Solution

Workflow Diagram

If you talk to any C-Level executive they are concerned with how to effectively and efficiently deliver their products or services to their customers.  IT is seen as one of the key components to improve business efficiency and effectiveness. The most successful IT solutions are technologies that meet these criteria.  They are pragmatic solutions where the business solution is the focal point, not the technology.

Effective implementation of a Workflow solution meets these criteria.  Workflow automation can improve operational efficiencies and automate manual tasks, driving cost savings and improving customer service.  As a Services Manager with LANSA, I have been involved with some significant projects involving Workflow automation for our customers. During my nearly 30 years in the IT business, my focus has always been first and foremost to solve the business problem or need regardless of the technology employed.  What solution will meet the requirements at a reasonable cost or have an acceptable ROI? That is what attracted me to LANSA in the first place.  The LANSA tool set is focused on delivering to IT departments the vehicle to reduce development complexity and cost and ultimately to improve IT delivery time to the business.

LANSA’s development mantra has evolved around the centralization of business logic within the Repository. Building on this concept, the LANSA Workflow Framework consolidates the key elements of day-to-day business activities – process flow determination, email, document generation, user/role management decision making, monitoring and control – into a ready-to-use, business-friendly framework.

LANSA Workflow
LANSA Workflow

Most organizations have this workflow inbuilt into their existing applications (hidden within the technology underbelly), where a simple change in the business could trigger a multitude of adjustments across systems. Abstracting workflow from the innards of the technology and visualizing the processes provides a subtle but powerful benefit to the business. The key business decision makers can easily use this new vantage point to help determine and analyze their business process flows.

Almost all engagements I’ve had with customers using CodeStart Workflow have involved long and sometimes heated discussions on the business process flow. Is that how it is today? Do we want to improve on how we do things currently? Is this the most effective way to meet our customer’s demands?  They get focused on solving the business problem or finding new ways to improve their business. This is like music to my pragmatic ear.

The reason these questions arise is that workflow is not absorbed or hidden anymore in the technology solution. It is clearly visible through the Workflow framework or tool. In the current business environment, where executives are becoming ever more accountable for the success or failure of organizations, understanding exactly how their business really works is mandatory.  It is an ‘easy sell’ as a CIO or IT Manager when you bring a solution to the table that helps the exec team to meet the demands for business transparency and accountability.

Managers within departments with overall responsibility for implementing policy need to be able to define roles, activities, events, business rules or triggers and thresholds that will allow them to do their jobs most effectively.  They need to be able to view current workloads and balance accordingly, planning or reacting to absences of employees. Employees are able to focus on the jobs on their plate using a prioritized To-Do list and email communications. These are all real world business requirements that a workflow tool can facilitate. Most importantly the workflow tool renders data in a language and interface that makes sense to the Manager. I just love to see the faces of the business users when we talk dirty – “Yeah, we make sure that this process is wrapped up in a series of SOA calls triggered by events on the ESB!”.

Not only can business processes be visualized through the workflow solution, but also business stakeholders can readily determine how effective and efficient the implemented process flows have been over time by using analysis tools on top of the workflow database. What steps, resources, processes are bottlenecks to business delivery and success?

I once met the CEO of a large conglomerate who had just finished attending a seminar with some consultants from the Audit/IT Consulting community.  He was fired-up about the key message from the seminar. The core concept was that custom software development is bad, there are many great packages out there, buy a package that promotes business best practices and then change your business. Of course the consultants were selling their own ERP package.  Organizations remain in business because they do what they do well. They know their market, they know their customers, they know their employees and assets and they know how to combine this knowledge into a working entity. Having a tool that speaks directly to defining, controlling and monitoring this business eco-system is essential and a far more pragmatic solution than investing in yet-another big ERP package.

In future posts I plan to share some more of my thoughts about other practical technology-based business solutions. My philosophy is to find ways in which technology can be woven into the fabric of business. If you get all excited about jargon and technological buzzwords then tune out.  If you are interested in how to use technology to complement and improve your business then please stay tuned.

– The Avid Pragmatist

Paul McDonald

Author: Paul McDonald

As Professional Services Manager for LANSA in the Americas, Paul has extensive experience across the LANSA product suite as both a developer and project manager. During the past 12 years, he has played a pivotal role in delivering efficient, strategic and often “bleeding-edge” business solutions for many LANSA clients. He’s also authored and delivered numerous presentations, labs and training sessions at LANSA, COMMON and other conferences. Prior to joining LANSA, Paul spent over 18 years working in the IBM midrange environment managing a highly successful outsourcing and applications provider.

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