What makes good workflow management?

Designing business processes, checking them, optimizing them and adapting them quickly and simply when necessary – these are important activities in companies, and not only in the field of risk and credit management. Modern software offers the necessary support, as long as it provides the essential functions and characteristics. Read here what needs to be considered for the successful selection and introduction of a suitable IT solution.

The use of workflow management systems for the administration and optimization of business processes, for example in credit management, is nothing new. The advantages are clear: procedures need to be adhered to, responsibilities must be well-defined and the (part) automation of processes, comprehensive documentation as well as continuous monitoring and improvement of the workflows are all necessary.

Processes in companies should, however, never be considered in isolation. They are embedded in a process landscape and inevitably affect, and have interfaces with, diverse areas. For the true optimization of workflows it is therefore important to overcome silo mentality and process interruptions, and to represent wide-ranging processes in the system.

It is also fundamental to be able to make changes to processes quickly and without a great effort. Markets and the prevailing external conditions are constantly changing, for example the EU Money Laundering Directive, which has already been updated multiple times, making it necessary to adapt Know Your Customer processes in companies repeatedly and flexibly. In such cases, the ability to react and adapt quickly is a decisive criterion for success. It is therefore clearly an advantage when an IT service provider does not first need to be commissioned in order to make changes to processes in workflows, but instead you can adapt them yourself with the help of appropriate editing functions in your system.

A future-orientated workflow management system must have both capabilities: simple integration into, or interfaces with, the system environment and the possibility to adapt processes to new needs at short notice – and most importantly to do this without external help.

Evolutionary process design

Workflow management means making working procedures visible through modelling and regulating them. The transparency resulting from this offers the possibility to see exactly how processes in the company really work and where weaknesses exist. In the optimal case, one then finds oneself in a cycle of continual optimization.

The procedure is roughly as follows: processes are designed in terms of their content and then represented using a modelling language (e.g. BPMN, the industry standard for the depiction of processes), which can be utilized automatically by a workflow engine. These models are then run by the engine, during which data is collected to make undesirable characteristics visible, for example long periods waiting for manual stages to be performed. The identification of these problems provides starting points for the continual improvement of the process.

Continual optimization on the basis of new insights is, however, only one aspect of the evolution of processes. An evolutionary approach can also be followed when processes are initially utilized. For example, a process that starts out being largely manual and non-integrated can be developed further step-by-step in a continual process of improvement. Ultimately, even the process start and end can be automated. Media discontinuities have been removed and replaced with system interfaces.

An essential characteristic is that with every extension, improvement and restructuring of the process a greater maturity is achieved. This is called "evolutionary process design": with every evolutionary or revisionary stage the process gets better - more efficient, more effective, more integrated.

Representation of business rules

A precondition for the automation of business processes is the representation of business rules. With the help of special tools such as the Decision Model and Notation (DMN) modelling language, rules can be flexibly created in the form of decision tables and included. Combined with BPMN-based processes, the output of a DMN rule is used to determine how the process continues: for example, if the rating according to the input is < BBB, collateral is automatically requested. In all other cases the process ends.

It is an advantage when decision tables such as these can be viewed 1:1 in the system. The reasons for decisions are thereby 100% transparent for everybody and are easy to understand. Furthermore, and this is at least as important, the tables and therefore the decision-making guidelines can be edited directly in the system. Business rules can thus be updated by the company itself quickly and easily.

Summary: potential of workflow management

  • If the same models and tools for the definition, implementation and running of business processes and rules are used throughout the company, this reduces misunderstandings and facilitates communication, also between processes.
  • BPMN-modelled processes ensure that no process steps are forgotten and that responsibilities are clear. Even completely manual processes are therefore improved.
  • The automation of processes is easier because individual building blocks can simply be exchanged or an entire process can be directly restructured. DMN helps to make the whole thing more flexible and more efficient.
  • The integration into the system environment and interfaces to other systems make possible the elimination of media discontinuities and the embedding of processes into existing solutions.

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