In an interesting article http://kswenson.wordpress.com/2006/05/06/workflow-is-back/ K Swenson write about the changing of the word workflow into BPM over time and how the term workflow has gone out of favour. In fact if you look at Google trends the searches for the words workflow has gone down a few percent over the last few years. (Although the news items containing workflow seem to have doubled). Is this the end for workflow as a technology? As a name? Well neither.
Workflow as a Technology
I read via Gartner that workflow is still expected to increase in the 5-10% range over the next few years. Although referred to workflow systems as Business Process Management Suites by Gartner. Also an increasing number of companies have recognized that they need to invest in workflow systems.
Workflow as a Name
People are starting to use many other terms in place of workflow: such as Business Process Management, Enterprise Application Integration, Service Orchestration Architecture. That is the way of people that work with computers. We love a good acronym. The marketing people also love a good acronym. It can make their products sound better. Instead of a workflow systems why not have a Business Process Management Application Integration Service Oriented Uber-Mega Platform. Well there is one group that is less swayed by all the fancy talk. The people who buy workflow systems. Most after initial investigation realize that all these other systems are workflow but just using another name and from my experience they just want it to be called workflow.
There are a lot of different reasons why people purchase workflow systems. Generally they break down into a few major categories: To reduce costs, to provide better service to their customers, or regulatory requirements.
To Reduce Costs:
When you automate a process or maximize the use of resources you start to save money, and that is generally where most of the savings can occur. However often money is saved because workflow systems can be easier to understand then traditional systems and less training and knowledge is required. This helps you save money because if you have high staff turn over you are saving on training costs. Costs can also be saved by centralizing information into one place with one common data access paradigm so that users always know the right place to look for something, thus saving further time. Mobility can also save you money if you have a web based workflow system.
To provide better customer service:
With a web based workflow system you can offer your clients better real-time reporting on various things like: How their orders are progressing or how much they have spent with you this quarter. As such they will also spend less time calling you time find out how things are going and this can save you many man hours.
Some people want a new toy. OK this may be the worst reason to purchase workflow software but that is not to say it doesn't happen.
Some people just want a tool to model their processes so they can see what is going.
Some people buy because their competitors have bought something. Again maybe not the best reason.
Reporting on workflow throughput can give management better information and guide them towards better decisions.
Can allow for greater collaboration especially if it is web based.