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Understanding the new workflow world

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Technological advances are occurring that allow for full integration between communication systems and workflow tools. These advances will engender significant changes in the way companies do business – internally and with all business partners, says Karl Reed, chief marketing and solutions officer at Elingo. 
But an organisation’s ability to take advantage of these developments rests, as always, on its ability to assess its status quo before it seeks to move forward.
Many workflow solutions and technologies have historically operated in silos, providing tools or processes operating in isolation from the organisation’s communication system.
This is a fundamentally flawed approach, and lies at the root of ongoing perceptions that workflow solutions can be more trouble than they’re worth. This lack of integration creates the process bottle necks that have frustrated so many decision makers over the years.
When the customer hears the phone being put down on the desk, as the service agent marches to the back office to find out what’s going on with a claim, that’s the sound of a fundamental system disconnect between workflow and communications.
In this context, the back office can easily continue marching through item resolution without the slightest idea that the customer has called in five times that day already. Competitive advantage is severely damaged in the process.
The fast emerging alternative to the silo workflow approach is communication based workflow. Here workflow processes are fully integrated into the communication structure, including communication involving external service providers and business partners.
This system doesn’t wait for a person to select a task to complete. Rather, because it understands what each entity within the service chain is tasked with at any one moment, it pushes appropriate tasks at individuals. Crucially, priorities can be set for the item from cradle to grave via a very simple user interface.
As an assessor ends their phone call to the panel beater, for example, the workflow process running in the background might be for an SMS to be sent to a customer to notify him or her about the approval.
If the customer replies to the SMS with a query or complaint, this response is added to the workflow item – a new subroutine is generated and the process continues to the point where the bill is paid. An effective system will see the loop closing slowly, with the final stages of closure including after-sales services such as customer satisfaction checks, including those carried out by partners and providers.
This kind of integration allows decision makers to assess actions taken by each party across the supply chain – even if they are not direct employees. Such assessments include the ability to listen to call recordings and so on. Unlike in the old days, if the boss wants to understand if a process is working or not, it is a simple matter to isolate the process and identify bottlenecks.
In addition, because new generation systems are inherently open on a structural level, a complete roll out can be achieved in less than six months in some cases.
There is, however, a catch. Users can’t implement a workflow solution until they understand their processes as they currently exist – and developing that understanding is no simple matter.
As much as people talk about their strong processes in the market place, the reality is that many of these have evolved organically within the organisation and are thus hard to pin down.
Let’s say, for example, a courier delivers a parcel to a company reception desk. Do users, the decision makers, know what actually happens to that parcel? Do they know what the service levels are that should be attached to it? What customer commitments are with respect to that parcel?
Will someone need to book a cargo manifest for it, or does it just need to land on their desk? How are these decisions actually made? The answers to these seemingly simple questions lie at the heart of the ability to evolve workflow systems to best practice standards.
With the right system in place, it is more than possible for the parcel to simply be scanned, and the resulting set of actions to be completely automated. But before this vision can be a reality, users must understand the status quo. And that means digging carefully and thoughtfully through what is, long before they shoot for what should or might be.