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What Is Workflow ?
The automation of a process, in whole or part, during which a document, information or task is being passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules.

BPM vs.Workflow
Both Business Process Management (BPM) and Workflow allow a process to be defined, tested, and used.

BPM is focused on defining the overall business process, and managing and tracking that process wherever it goes, often through multiple organizations, different computer systems, multiple locations, and even different enterprises, often handled entirely by, machine.

Workflow is focused on managing the process also, but often has components of uncertainty, delay or approval such as those associated with people.

In many BPM projects, there is plenty of emphasis on the Business Process, but the wider holistic aspects of people, culture, and production management are often overlooked, yet they are just as important. As far as functionality goes, it is not a huge difference, but the lack of a 'manage & control' and 'understand & improve' culture makes a big difference to performance and bottom line profitability. BPM cannot be considered complete without it.

Workflow and ERP
Although companies might have invested in ERP systems, the approach to functional operations confines within what the "modules" can do. ERP systems produce modules that are confined to what they have been designed for automating respective functional groups, even though these modules are connected with one another. Applications such as these are transactional software. This transactional ability only answers part of the challenges a company face.

The challenge is indeed in multitudes. It is not only about addressing a functional group, as functional groups are not disparate. Functional groups connect with one another directly and indirectly. Achieving high efficiency from one functional group may not yield the same efficiency from the others. Hence, this phenomenon casts a further spell into the silo effects of "workflow" inherent within most organizations even with computerization.

Benefits of Workflow
  • Workflow defines and formalizes a business process. Tasks carried out according to predefined business rules, irrelevant works are eliminated.

  • Build in system automation and business intelligence enhance productivity significantly. Increase in business volumes does not increase in number of staff linearly.

  • As productivity increases, key knowledge workers could focus on more value added tasks such as improving customer service rather than over tied down with daily routine.

  • Paperwork, paper chasing and paper ticketing are eliminated.

  • Blending human intelligence into the workflow. Valuable ideas and formulas accumulated through experiences could be kept inside the organization.

  • Workflow system and performance are linked to the organization database in real time basis , such as KPIs.

  • Security is assured by predefined user access privileges, only those who need it could access to it.

  • Log report available to show who did what, what was done and when it was done.

Workflow in ASIA

Small Medium Business (SMB) forms a substantial part of businesses within ASEAN. Take for example in Singapore alone, SMBs number more than a 100,000. They form 90 percent of total business establishments and employs approximately 50 percent of the workforce. The intriguing characteristic of SMBs is that they are a diverse group; a mix of family-run businesses to professionally- managed companies. The highly successful and adaptable SMB companies are a growing portion of the ASEAN business community. This competitive community is increasingly focused on expanding globally. One of the significant challenges that SMBs are facing is their inability to leverage easily on information technology. Firstly, they may not have the economy of scale to invest on enterprise systems. Secondly, they may not have the expertise internally to implement the right solutions.

The contrary belief that SMBs simply need standard SMB solutions to automate their business and that is all, is untrue. The real fact is that each company operates very differently and no one does the same thing similarly. Many SMBs realize, and that for them to compete and expand globally, they need a technology platform that can be easily customizable. In fact, many of these companies see the impending need to be more productive and do things faster, especially if they were to compete with much bigger companies. Furthermore, information is crucial and real time performance reports of their operations are essentials for them to be successful.

A Malaysian based SMB who had successfully listed in the local board commented: "We have invested in locally developed ERP software. The modules did what we wanted. However, we needed more. We wanted real time performance measurement of all our operations. We want to optimize our processes and automate them with some level of Business Intelligence. We want our reports integrated with data that are able to relate on one operational function group to the other. The processes routed with multiple hierarchy levels of approvals, set alerts on critical tasks, automatically runs straight through processes. We think that BPM is the answer to all these."