Every company has business processes (either manual or automated). Business Processes regulate and organize how day-to-day business is conducted. They can be the simplest of workflows to the most complex of operations. Use of the words "simple" and "complex" are vague; they require further definition, as what is simple to one company could be complex to the next. Instead of ill-defined terms, processes in your company can be categorized as structured and unstructured.
Structured Processes are very routine and fairly straight forward processes:
- No matter who initiates the business process, future work is routed to a defined set of office workers
- Despite variances in the process data, there is no possibility of the flow of the process to take varied directions
- Execution of the process is consistent and routine (extreme irregularities of data in the process are rare)
- Examples: Employee Roll On and Expense Reporting
Unstructured Processes are hard to define and often take different paths based on varying factors:
- Depending on who initiates the process, the number of future steps in the process are dynamic
- Data inputted and captured in the process varies greatly
- Flow inside the process often includes process "jumps" (steps are often skipped and/or randomly activated depending on situational circumstances or run-time decisions by process participants)
- Examples: Software Project Management Release and Grants Approvals
In each of the unstructured process cases above, the people involved in the process highly impact how the process itself executes. These people could be described as "Knowledge Workers". Knowledge Workers are people in your company today who leverage their company and product expertise to make day-to-day company decisions. Their knowledge plays a critical part in ensuring the most vital processes in your company execute correctly and efficiently. For the knowledge worker, process flexibility and run-time decision making are important functionalities as it allows them to act on tasks and activities in the most appropriate and efficient manner.. If you are forcing your company's knowledge workers to use static workflows just because the workflows have already been built, they will ultimately find a way around the process (or even not use the process at all).
A Business Process Management (BPM) Suite that leverages strong case management functionality will best cater to the needs of your knowledge workers as well as to your company. Compared to linear workflows, case management functionality has the following qualities:
- The process has a beginning point and an ending point
- The number of steps in the process and specific process participants are unknown, but can be determined dynamically
- Despite the unknown characteristics of the process, process tracking and tracing remains critical (one could argue that tracking and tracing is even more important in case management processes)
If you took an informal inventory of all the processes in your company today, I bet the majority of them are dynamic, unstructured, and involve your company's knowledge workers. A workflow application can support structured processes very well, but fails when it comes to unstructured processes. A BPM Suite, on the other hand, has the ability to effectively handle both unstructured and structured processes. In choosing the right process or workflow application for your company, be sure not to forget the knowledge worker and the fact that a large percentage of your company's business is conducted "on the fly".
VP of Product and Technology