Workflow for Compliance

compliance

Why comply?

Ask yourself this. How would you feel if an organisation that held your personal information was poorly secured and managed? What if a security breach meant that all of your private details, passwords, addresses and credit card details were leaked, and the company refused to be held responsible for the loss of personal and valuable information?

This is why compliance is critical in all businesses and we will explain how workflow can assist with managing compliance.

Compliance management is a critical component of the internal control process for any organisation. Whether it is compliance to meet internal corporate procedures or external regulatory requirements, effective compliance will aid the organisation to avoid criminal charges, build a positive reputation, higher productivity and generate a positive working environment.

Workflow for Compliance

The overall purpose of a workflow is to divide business processes into smaller steps which can be passed to different people within (or outside) the organisation. This usually involves creating a document, submitting to a reviewer, pass back for amendments and so on. These steps may repeat several times before the reviewer is satisfied to move on to the next stage.

Workflow software can ensure that all necessary steps are undertaken, enforce control processes and verification of information. Tracking and monitoring of processes and approval checkpoints ensure that steps and information are not overlooked, missing or incorrect.

Quality Checks

Quality Checking involves reviewing all of the factors in the workflow. The purpose is to review for completeness and accuracy.  It helps to identify and remove incorrect tasks early on; so that only the correct tasks are progressed and additional time is not wasted.

The reviewer will analyse the information to ensure that the details were completed correctly. The overall aim is to check that the provided information meets the set requirements.

Requests for information, send backs, and approvals with any comments or instructions can be communicated via alerts. The advantage is that each task can be immediately actioned when received and no time is wasted on follow ups.

Approvals

The Approver will inspect that all information is correct and complete before passing the information forward to the next process. Approvers can make decisions on whether to progress, request further information or reject altogether.

Workflow provides Approvers with the ability to request additional information, and approve or decline if it didn’t meet the requirements and provide reasons.

The Approver has the opportunity to evaluate the staff based on their experience and skills. From their analysis of the staff, they can then allocate the tasks to the most suitable individuals, which will ultimately increase the likelihood that the tasks will be carried out correctly.

Auditing

The audit log keeps record of all transactional events that occur within the system. An audit log can store all data entries including create, update and delete information.  It can store the timestamps of the transaction along with the user who performed the transaction.

These can be permanently stored so that every transaction captured can be reviewed at any time by the administrator. The logs can be used to trace the proof of origin, changes, inserts or deletions and who, when and how they were actioned.

 

Workflow follows a consistent approach by requiring frequent approvals after important tasks and at major checkpoints. Workflow can guarantee that new employees follow the procedure and don’t make costly mistakes.

It also ensures that employees cannot  cut corners, provide false or inaccurate information, or bypass procedures in the workflow.

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What we’ve been talking about for the last 6 years

Workflow Tag Cloud

By looking at the tag cloud in the side bar of this blog, it was interesting to note the keywords that were frequently being used in the context of workflow.

It got me thinking – apart from ‘workflow’, why do all other tags appear to be of equivalent size, which would indicate they are of equal importance?  I was not convinced because how could ‘random ramblings’ be considered as equally important as ‘business process management’!

If you are not already familiar with tag clouds, the way they work is by grabbing the keywords from within a website to create a visual representation by arranging them according to their importance. It emphasizes the key tags by making them larger and typically darker in color.

Although the existing tag cloud served its functional purpose, could it be improved to make it appear more interesting and the important tags to stand out more noticeably?

I was able to stumble accross Tagxedo, a tag cloud generating website that allowed you to submit your website to generate a tag design. It automatically identifies the key tags and allows you to customise the appearance of the image through various settings. After a few attempts, this is what I was able to come up with.  This appears to be a much more accurate representation for this blog’s content!

As suspected, it identified ‘workflow’ as the largest tag since it can be found in almost all of the blog posts since the the first in 2006. Other closely related tags include business, process, software and web which are agreeably far more valuable than ‘random ramblings’.  Which raises the question – what are we not posting about that we should be?  I’d be interested to hear your thoughts…

Workflow for SMEs

In Australia in June 2011, there were 230,638 business with between 5 and 19 employees; and a further 81,006 employers with 20-199 employees; according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.  Businesses of this size struggle with process – they are large enough to deal with increasing specialisation of work; but the costs of specialised solutions (HRIS systems; Case Managment Solutions; Sales systems) can be prohibitive.  Often, this results in continuing with paper or spreadsheet-based systems well beyond the point at which they are efficient for those businesses.

The economies of scale to build and deploy workflows for an organisation means that it is typically large organisations who have the process knowledge, skills, and time available to undertake a process mapping and development process and to get the full benefit of a workflow automation process.  On the other hand, all organisations use workflow – the nature of work is that any process involving multipe steps or people can benefit from going through review and automation.  In many cases, this means that Small and Medium enterprises don’t get the benefits of workflow… despite being the largest category of employer.

Web and Flo, having worked with large and multinational organisations for over a decade, and an SME ourselves; have decided that enough is enough – and have started developing a library of best practice workflows that we will make available to SMEs for free, or on a subscription-model.  The idea is to consolodate the process information we’ve gathered over many years, and make the available to organisations that until now haven’t been able to benefit from BPM and Workflow Automation.  We’d welcome any input into what processes are the most painful for business as the outgrow their paper and spreadsheet-based systems.  Please feel free to comment in the blog or reach us at the Web and Flo website if you’re interested in learning more, or in registering as a Beta client.

Say it aint Silo

Much of what we do in the BPM/Workflow space has to due with bridging the gap between business silos within organizations. All businesses of a certain size have them, and in the majority of cases they contribute to inefficiency. However since all businesses have them, are business silos not always a bad thing. Therefore what should you look for to determine when bridging a silo is just, a bridge to far.

Silos come into being for a number of reasons like: companies or generally hierarchical in nature, they may have had mergers and acquisitions, poor planning or just different requirements. Sometimes silos are formed instantly but generally they form over a period of time.

So when is a silo a good thing or at least not all bad?

Well in some cases similar IT systems may be replicated in various degrees within an organization but due to different requirements these may be a requirement. This could be related to the general cultural or geographic requirements of a silo.

Silos provide a level of security. They intrinsically act like firewalls.

Finally there is the possibility of information overload. Putting all the information in one place when the majority of information and features might be visible but inapplicable across the business silos is unwise.

It is important to consider when developing BPM applications what the negative effects will be for technology with respect to silo bridging. It is also important to consider the political effects as well but that is a blog for a different day.

BPM Standards (Here we go again)

There is a debate going on about BPM standards.  Two most recent articles were written by Ismael Ghalimi and Rhashid Khan.  They discuss the merits of having a BPM Ecosystem.  This ecosystem is based on interoperability standards that span across vendors and BPM related technologies and applications.  The ecosystem provides “a natural unit consisting of all plants, animals and micro-organisms(biotic factors) in an area functioning together with all of the non-living physical (abiotic) factors of the environment.”

In these articles (http://www.bpmlab.org/2008/11/07/developing-a-true-bpm-ecosystem/
http://leadershipbpm.wordpress.com/2008/11/10/the-bpm-ecosystem-2/) they discuss what the ecosystem should be and its use of standards.

The thing about standards in IT is that they are very hard to agree on.  There are a few reasons for this:

1) There is no central organisation akin to the IEEE like there is for Electrical Engineers that governs the industry.  In BPM the organisations that come up with these standards are loosely defined.  If we had a central figure with near dictatorial powers then perhaps they could make this happen.

2) In engineering standards are the key to everything they do.  The same amount of discipline is not installed in the average IT professional.  There are many “cowboy coders” but there are not cowboy engineers.  Due to it being a less regimented culture to begin with there will be less standardisation and fewer people who follow the standards.

3) There is no real punishment for not observing standards like there is in engineering disciplines.

4) It is very simple for someone to invent a new “standard”.  They can also easily modify an existing standard and call it something else. 

5) Microsoft (the company who provides alot of the underlying technology on which many BPM vendors rely) will always follow standards but only upto a point.

Mr Ghalimi and Khan seek to illustrate how the use of standards or lack of use of standards will improve the industry as a whole.  However I think that without a very strong governing body in place and strong cultural shift this simply will not happen so the argument is a bit academic.  If there is to be a standard that everyone agrees on it is a long way off and may only come about through consolidation and not agreement.

Revenge of the Workflow / BPM keywords

A while ago I went through the list of several Workflow / BPM vendors homepages.  I listed a few of the words that were often found among them.  I figured this was a somewhat unscientific was to determine what were the types of things that potential clients would be looking for in BPM products.  I have since gone back to my survey and added a few more sites.  Here are my results for key words that appeared on 30% or more of the websites.

achieve
application
automate
based
better
BPM
business
capability
change
collaborate
compete
complex
control
cost
customer
define
deploy
design
efficient
enterprise
environment
execution
fast
finance
help
implement
improve
information
integrate
intelligent
management
modeling
monitor
optimise
performance
process
productive
project
rapidly
resource
service
software
solution
streamline
system
task
time
user
work
Workflow

One thing I noticed absent from the list was acronyms for things like BPMN, BPEL or OMG.