What is Workflow?

A workflow is none other than a predefined chain of steps in connection to a given task and its execution. Actually, we describe what is done, what work phases follow each other for the successful completion of a task and what conditions need to be fulfilled so we can take the next step. Now we are also able to provide IT support for this procedure with the help of a suitable workflow system.


The electronic workflow


Thanks to workflow software we can plan, support and later on track corporate workflows. The secret of every workflow-support system is that they are automated. We do not have to be occupied by knowing which one of our colleagues has something to do with the given case who should we forward a document to or what happens if we get a negative answer in an approval procedure. The workflow system sort of “holds our hands” and guides the workflow on the way we have previously defined. Now the system does not do the task itself for us; it “only” leads the colleagues through the work phases and it always forwards the data, information, or documents to the colleague who needs to work with them.

In the case of workflow, prior planning is very important: we need to think through and precisely define corporate workflows only once, since that is what we will copy into an electronic form with the help of the workflow system. Corporate workflows always have several steps, and the chain of steps is predefined. At every step you can assign a certain responsible person or team, you can define deadlines and parallel approvals (eg.: two leaders can approve a contract or an invoice at the same time); we can decide what should happen in case of substitution, etc. This predefined series of work phases is uploaded into the system and when a workflow is launched (invoice approval, vacation permission, etc.) this chain of steps is run in connection to a task. Since it is automated the participants of the workflow system get a picture about where a certain workflow stands at the moment, about tasks to be done as well as deadlines according to their authorization.

What tasks should be included in a workflow management system?

Perhaps it is easier to make sense of the things above if we see, considering everyday operation, what corporate workflows should be regulated with the help of a workflow support system. Let’s see a couple of examples of the practical application of workflows:

  • Contract evaluation, contract approval;
  • Invoice approval;
  • Approval of supply needs;
  • Vacation permission;
  • HR procedures (employment, lay off, trainings)
  • Requests for authorization (eg. Requesting access to a given system)
  • Publishing quality assurance standards;

These procedures come up again and again during the operation of the company; they are repeated as part of everyday operation so, they are worth to be automated. We also call them default workflows. You can tell a workflow system is good if it is able to adapt to changes that occur in corporate operation. A change can also occur in the circumstances, in the loop of responsible colleagues in a workflow (eg. A colleague quits) therefore it can happen that the whole procedure needs to be redefined. However, so called ad hoc workflows can come up as well that need more dynamic structures and that is why they would not work if we used default workflows.

Graphic imaging

The graphic imaging method helps to see and interpret even the most complicated workflow as well. This is the simplest way how we can visualize the chain of our workflow. It is wrong to think that a workflow diagram is only a list of each task. It is actually a lot more than that: it contains the work phases (tasks), their order, their effect on one another, as well as the dependencies. But, let see how the graphic image of a corporate workflow looks like in reality with the help of a workflow software.

The diagram above defines three levels of approval. The incoming invoice is digitalized (scanned) and the appointed colleague forwards it to the relevant department head depending on whose authority the invoice falls into. The invoice can end up with 3 people:

1. the Production Manager,
2. the Customer Service Manager,
3. or the Country Manager.

The production manager can reject the invoice according to the diagram (eg. There is a wrong amount on the invoice) or s/he can approve it. In the latter case the invoice goes to the business director who can approve the invoice under a pre-set amount limit, but above the limit the country manager’s approval is also necessary for the bank transfer. Therefore, the business director can make two decisions about the invoice:

1. approves the invoice under the amount limit then the invoice goes to accounting and it is eventually transferred;

2. above the amount limit passes the invoice to the country manager, who can

  • approve the invoice so, it goes to accounting and it is later transferred;
  • reject the invoice;
  • send it back to the business manager if s/he thinks there is a problem with the invoice;

3. s/he can pass it back to the production manager if for example s/he wants to ask for more information before s/he makes a decision about it;

4. s/he can also reject the invoice (for instance the partner did not comply with the contract terms)

The invoice following digitalization can go to the customer service manager who can decide according to the diagram:

1. rejects the invoice;
2.  approves the invoice so, the system forwards it to the business director accordingly for further action and then come the business manager’s decisions mentioned above;

In case of a digitalized invoice the competent person could be the country manager directly who can:

1. reject the invoice;
2.  approve the invoice so, following approval the invoice goes to the accounting department and it is transferred.
3. send it back to the digitalizing department to ask for more information.

So, the system does not do the task or does not make a decision for us, but it controls the whole procedure so, the task can go automatically to the colleague who has to work with it. We could put it this way: the task finds its master. It can be seen from the above example that the workflow software can also handle conditions when the approval procedure is connected to an amount limit.

Has it happened to you that the approval of an invoice took several days or even a couple of weeks?

Thanks to workflow management the workflow can be done more quickly and more precisely. The secret of the system is that it is automated. We need to think through and precisely define corporate workflows only once; after this the system automatically places the necessary steps one after the other. The workflow software always gives the task to the one that has to work with it; that is, it guides the competent completers of the tasks through the work phases. At every step a particular person or team responsible can be given and we can define deadlines as well. Let’s see an actual example: the procedure of invoice approval can be defined in a workflow system, it could be different within every company though who is authorized to permit payment. We can automate it in a way that after the approval of given department head payment can only start with the signature of the CFO and what happens if one of them passes the invoice back. We can configure as many workflow types into a workflow system as many we like, but in practice it is recommended to define maximum five workflow types.

The following business procedures are worth to be regulated by a workflow system:

  • mapping the evaluation of contracts and the approval procedure,
  • approval of invoices,
  • vacation permits,
  • approval of supply needs,
  • publishing quality assurance standards,
  • handling the configuration of the production procedure
  • HR procedures (employment of a new colleague, laying off, trainings)
  • Requests for authorization (eg. Requesting a password for a given system)

So, it is worth considering the introduction of a workflow system because your work will be faster and more precise. Our experts will show you, free of charge, how our system works that besides workflow management supports teamwork and the orderly registry of your documents as well. Choose the bixbit solution!