Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What's Electronic Document Workflow? Why Should You Care?

By Matt Forcey

Electronic document workflows enable information workers (this means you) to work together on documents, and to manage project tasks by applying business processes to documents and items managed within an enterprise content management system (ECM).  Exciting huh?  Now think about it in terms of your bottom line.  Workflows can help your organization enforce coherent business processes, as well as improve organizational effectiveness and productivity by managing the tasks and steps involved in these business processes. This allows the people responsible for these tasks to focus on performing the work rather than spending time administering the workflow processes.  Interested yet?  If not, it doesn't get any more thrilling than this.  I'd recommend that you just take a look at the funny cartoon and move on.

Now, for those still with me, "workflow" is generally defined as a series of tasks that produce an outcome.  In the context of enterprise content management, workflow is defined more succinctly as the automated movement of documents or items through a sequence of actions or tasks that are related to a business process.

Workflows can be employed to consistently manage common business processes within a company by enabling the organization to affix business logic to documents or items in a content management system’s lists or libraries. Business logic is essentially a set of instructions that specify and control the actions that happen to a document or item.  By managing and tracking the human tasks involved with these processes, workflows can streamline the cost and time necessary to coordinate common business processes, such as project approval or document review.  For example, within your content management framework, users can add a workflow to a document library that routes a document to a group of co-workers for review, comment, and approval.

When a document author initiates a workflow on a document within the chosen document library, the defined workflow automatically creates document review and approval tasks, delegates these tasks to the appropriate workflow participants, then sends e-mail alerts to the participants with task instructions and a link to the document to be reviewed.  While the workflow is in progress, the workflow process owner (in this case, the document author) can check a “workflow status” dashboard to see which participants have completed their workflow tasks.  When the workflow participants finish their assigned tasks, the workflow ends, and the workflow owner is automatically alerted that the workflow has completed.

In addition to supporting human work processes, electronic document workflows also broaden the ways in which people can collaborate and work with available documents, lists, and libraries. ECM users can be empowered to create and participate in workflows by using customizable forms that are made available at the document, list, and/or library level. 

Other advanced forms of workflow allow multiple users to view and modify (or markup) a document at the same time in a collaborative online session.  The resulting document would be viewable in its final shape, while also storing the markups done by each individual user during the collaborative workflow session.

Now you have a basic understanding of workflow and how it might benefit your organization.  Is your company using a content management system with workflow capabilities?  Is your current system closely integrated with the business productivity tools commonly used to create and view electronic documents (word processing, spreadsheets, email, etc)?  CLICK HERE to discover four new ways to engage your employees using ECM tools.