What is a Workflow Application?

Neil Miller

March 3rd, 2018 workflow  

A workflow application is a tool that uses software to either partially or entirely automate a complex business process. Workflow applications can be standalone apps that exist on their own or built on a platform where endless numbers of applications can reside.

workflow app will break a workflow down into a set of data needed to complete the process, and a path for the data to follow. The workflow application will use a form to collect data at different points in the process. The path will include a progression or series of tasks. These tasks might be done by humans or systems. Tasks might include transferring data, documents, or responsibilities in order to achieve a certain goal.

A workflow application guides the process automatically, issuing notifications for humans to complete tasks or triggering system tasks with specific commands. The workflow application also collects data on how the workflow is functioning. It measures the amount of time individual tasks take, the amount of time the entire process takes, how often individual items are rejected or sent back to earlier steps, and where the typical backlogs occur.

Workflows are an integral part of operating a successful business when implemented properly. Workflows provide a specific direction for teams within an organization to follow and establish a standardized business process for completing predefined tasks. A workflow application is a much sought-after efficiency tool among many industry verticals including manufacturing, IT, customer service, marketing, finance, etc.

Manual vs. Automated Workflow

When a workflow management application is not used, most workflows are handled manually. Manual workflows mean that at each task, a human must either pass the existing data to the next task owner (via email or a message) or manually insert specific commands for a system to follow.

Workflows can be paper-based or digital. However, the majority of automated workflow applications focus on digital-based data and communication. Conventional workflow processes were manual, wherein individuals had to go through several paperworks and tasks would progress at a slow pace. Manual workflows also involved a higher chance of human errors.

The advent of automated workflow applications has been transformative for businesses because they have removed the hassles of requiring manual intervention for repetitive tasks and mitigated the risks of human risks. Automated workflows offer more control over process efficiency with little to no room for errors.

How Do Workflow Applications Work?

A workflow application operates in a linear sequence of steps, often involving team members at every step who perform their part of the task or authorize tasks to move things to the next step. There are rules for workflows when exceptions occur, in which case the workflow takes a possible alternative route.

Taking a purchase order as a real-life business example, let’s say that a person initiates a request that passes through a few departments before finally getting approved. For example, if a participating member in another department is on leave, the request goes to another official (at the same level or higher in terms of chain-of-command) who can step in. Likewise, the workflow can move backward if a member rejects the request of sends it back for more input.

When all the involved members approve of the task, the original process owner is notified about its completion who then closes the process. Workflows are mostly applied to repetitive and complex business processes.

Workflow Application Creation Options

The BPM industry is inundated with a range of workflow applications that offer different USPs, while promising a common goal of easing complex business processes. Every company is different with a unique approach applied to handle its processes. Therefore, an organization needs to pick up a workflow application that best suits its specific requirements.

If a company chooses a workflow application platform, they can create an endless number of automated workflows. These platforms generally have a wizard tool to create the form and path for the data. Companies can import contacts and assign specific tasks to different individuals or systems.

If a company is looking for a standalone workflow application for a very specific situation, such as a leave request application, there are new opportunities arising where single applications can be bought rather than paying for an entire platform.

In general, small- and medium-size businesses can choose a lightweight workflow software so that it is easy on the company’s resources and comes with extra features, such as documenting processes and issuing reports. Off-the-shelf workflow software like KiSSFLOW doesn’t require its users to know complex coding in order to operate the product. This is an added benefit for businesses whose employees might not be adept at constructing complicated workflows.

There are a few situations where a workflow may be so proprietary or extremely complex that unique software must be created to handle the job. These projects generally take a long time to implement and require a lot of attention and maintenance.