As the technology gets better, the computer process transforms and surpasses the manual process, as people realize that technology opens options to them that they didn’t have before. At some point, it may become difficult to recognize the original manual process in the final product.
When you look at a modern spreadsheet, with all its graphics and complex formulas, you may not realize it started as the humble page of multi-column ledger paper.
Workflow was inspired by the inbox. A pile of purchase orders, invoices or expense reports would land in your inbox and would wait for you to sign them.
If the amount was above your approval limit, then you would have to send the document up the chain to the next level of approval when you were satisfied.
Workflow started by taking electronic documents along the same path as the old paper documents, depositing the stack of transactions in your email inbox and waiting for you to approve them and send them on to the next level or back to the originator.
But workflow is evolving . . .
Process in Parallel
People have realized that documents don’t have to go in one set sequence. They can go to two people at the same time.
Also, they no longer have to wait passively or languish in the inbox when the approver is on vacation. The system is getting smarter than that. It can tell that a document has waited for you for over a week and decide to do something different with that document.
It used to be that if you had a priority document, you would walk it through the process personally instead of let it sit in the stack of documents.
Now, you can prioritize documents so that they go to the top of the list. And, even cooler, you can change priorities at any time.
One warning though: just as in the old manual days, if you make everything a priority, nothing will be a priority!
My little accounting system emails my invoices to my clients. It will also automatically email reminders if the bills go unpaid for 30 days (or however long I choose). It will even email me a copy so that I know what’s going on. How cool is that?
Workflow now does the same thing. The system doesn’t have to wait for human intervention. The passage of time can be enough to trigger a workflow event.
So, where is workflow going next?