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Guide to Workflow Management Software


Guide to Workflow Management Software


Companies use workflow management software (WfM or WfMS) to automate and facilitate the movement of documents and forms between companies, stakeholders, and teams. Beginning in the mid 1990s, companies have used WfMS to hasten document sharing and automatically fill forms that previously required redundant processes. WfM programs remove manual steps that would otherwise slow time to ship for manufacturing, health, education, service, and many more industries.

Because of its various benefits, the market for WfMS is expected to grow to $9.87 billion by 2021 at a compound annual growth rate of 23 percent. Companies who continue to use manual processes to share documents and move information between individuals and teams will find their time spent on paperwork and loss of documents through human error significantly decreased upon implementation.

As an added benefit, many companies experience what’s known as the workflow management paradox. Companies that go through the process of implementing a WfM software will find that they actually need a different system of productivity, but would not have recognized that fact without trying to implement the software.

Due to the popularity of these tools, the market and usage of WfMS is broad and varied. This guide will outline the features of the best workflow management tools and give an overview of the top solutions on the market. For a more extensive list of workflow management software, please visit our Product Selection Tool.

Common Features, Benefits, Use Cases

The best workflow management software improves processes across your company by speeding production time, helping identify inefficiencies in your processes, and allowing previously sequential processes to work in tandem. An early example of implementing workflows into the business process is Toyota’s adaptation of the assembly line into a lean process that saved up to 400 percent production time, cutting quality costs by 60 percent.

Workflow management software has come a long way since early iterations that transferred the idea of Ford’s assembly line to software, industrial, and business processes. The increasing complications of business systems have in turn spurred growth of features in WfMS. Below are some of the features you should consider during your search for workflow management software.

  • BPM (Business Process Modeling) Notation: Software choices that use business process modeling are built on established best practices to increase efficiency. They include specific flowcharting and activity diagrams of workflows. These are different from a full business process management solution in that BPM notation can be found in any type of software, including business process management.
  • GUI: A graphical user interface (GUI), also known as a visual or “drag-and-drop” editor, helps the user build workflows based on icons and flowcharts, rather than requiring the user to code processes on their own. GUIs help less technical employees build processes without the assistance of a developer.
  • Automation: Process automation improves speed of delivery for repetitive tasks that do not require the interference of a human. These tasks include sending responses to emails, automatic document sharing, pricing and work-order automation, and more. Most workflows will include some form of automation. Some tools even identify which processes can run simultaneously to speed your production time.
  • Reporting: Helpful for improving business processes, workflow management software that includes reports lets businesses measure ROI and identify areas where current workflows break down. Reporting comes in all shapes and sizes, from the ability to export your data to an external reporting tool to internally designed reports with automatic scheduling.
  • Parallel Execution: As a portion of your automation or as a standalone feature, parallel execution refers to the system’s ability to run several processes in tandem. This is especially useful for large companies that use workflow management software across several teams.
  • Notifications: Whether your company uses a message or database workflow, notifications keep everyone involved in the project apprised of their duties. These notifications can work over email, through an internal chat system, or alert a user to an incomplete task when the user logs on.

Tips for Comparing Solutions

Because of its ubiquity, workflow management software takes many forms, from coded systems to visual GUI interfaces, and even coding languages. Seek the advice of stakeholders and potential users before committing to any system. You may not find the best workflow management system for all users, but you will find options that fit most needs.

One distinction you’ll find in many workflow solutions is between database vs. messaging systems. The difference between these two lies in their architecture and how users interact with them. Database systems work as a central repository for all documents, letting anyone in the company access and update based on tasks. Message-based workflow management, on the other hand, alerts users when documents need approval or updates. Once completed, those documents move to the next user along the workflow. Choosing between these two types of systems depends on the type of processes you build into your workflow and the level of attention your users will need to sustain.

Another major consideration when you’re implementing WfMS is who will be using the product. Developers often prefer a code-enabled system that lets them work in the language they already spend most of their days working in. If the majority of your users are non-technical, on the other hand, you may want to investigate visual workflows that use a GUI.

To further complicate matters, coded workflows should fit within the larger coding languages that your company works with. If your company uses mostly Windows tools, you’ll find greater success with those workflows that build in .NET, the language of Windows. Other systems may work in Java, though, so if you’re uncertain which will best serve your company, make sure you poll your IT and development teams before committing to a system. This will also help your team understand how much internal IT work is required to implement the software, and whether you should hire outside consultants to speed onboarding.

As with any business software, implementing a workflow management system will require a poll of the security needs of the company. On-premise workflow solutions are available to companies that require added security and customization. These systems may require more IT interaction and expensive license upgrades, but they also ensure the company retains full control of data and implementation.

Workflow management software’s ubiquity is so complete that it often comes as a standard integration within larger systems. You’ll find WfMS modules within ERP, CRM, call center, or BPM programs. Many of these systems prove too bulky and confusing for companies first moving to a workflow solution, but if your company already uses one of these, it may be worthwhile to investigate those products before purchasing or subscribing to an entirely new system.

Integrations with your existing tech stack are always important to consider. As you compare solutions, it might be helpful to list the other products that are integral to your workflows, including your database, email, and document management systems. Research which WfMS supports these, or the difficulty of building new connections.

Workflow Management Software Case Study

Company: DIRECTV is an American digital satellite provider for the U.S. and Central America. The company uses a network of contractors and subcontractors to provide satellite TV services to over 32 million users in their coverage area.

Challenge: DIRECTV required a workflow management software to speed delivery and organize paperwork within their subcontractor network. The solution needed to be scalable, reasonably priced, and cloud-based. The time to implementation needed to be below the internal estimates of at least a year for a custom-built product. After extensive research, DIRECTV settled on TrackVia Workflow Management.

Results: DIRECTV cites over 325 hours of saved time per quarter in paperwork and organizational tasks within the first year of use. TrackVia was able to pull together the right applications for DIRECTV within a matter of weeks, and the team implemented the new system after only a single day of group training. TrackVia’s system made enough of a difference in the subcontractor sector that DIRECTV soon rolled out a similar solution to its global network.

Choosing the Best Workflow Management Software

Building a workflow system that makes processes easier for your company and automates those repetitive and time-consuming tasks takes research and input from stakeholders.

TechnologyAdvice has a range of the top workflow management software tools in the Products tab above, which is a great place to start your research. You can also contact one of our Technology Advisors for a free consultation on which workflow management solution works best for your team.

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