It is no surprise that business software systems today are becoming more and more complex with richer functionality for a smaller price tag. One of the areas that business systems are improving in is in the area of workflow.
So what does ‘Workflow’ mean? Well, it can mean many different things depending on the system or process it is attached to, but broadly it is software functionality that prompts and assists users to follow a predefined process when interacting with the system. This could be an approval process, an alert and notification process, or simply a step-by-step data entry process. Workflow can be a really great way to ensure users interact with business software in an effective way and can reduce human error as well as adding richer features at critical transactional points.
One of the most common workflows in business systems today is approval workflow. This type of workflow typically manages a purchasing or payment process whereby a transaction must be approved by one or many people before it can move through the business. E.g. Be paid. This is not the only type of approval workflow, but one of the more common examples.
The complexity of such a workflow is usually restricted by features available in your software system. Some smaller accounting/ERP systems may only offer a pre-defined approval workflow process; an example of this would be the cloud-based small business system Xero. Other larger ERP and CRM systems will often include functionality that allows configuration of the workflow with various approval steps and custom delegation rules.
Approval workflows are an excellent way to mitigate excessive purchase costs or manage business cash flow.
Change Management Workflow
Another example of workflow in business software is that surrounding the management of data changes. I often consult with users of all levels who are at some stage puzzled by the data they see in their systems. The cause of the puzzling data could be a myriad of reasons but one common reason is that they (or another) user changed it.
Using simple workflow, modification of sensitive or critical data can be moderated and audited. Users can be required to submit data changes for approval or the system could simply track historical changes allowing old data to be reinstated if required.
A great example of change management workflow is Google Apps. Every single change up to the second is recorded in any Google Apps document and can be reviewed and rolled back at a single click.
Sales Process Workflow
One of the core functions in CRM software is to assist and manage the sales and lead pipeline. It is often said that one of the keys to a successful sales cycle is lead nurturing and lead follow up. A CRM system that has customisable workflow can leverage these ideas by providing a step by step process that matches the businesses sales methodology.
A workflow attached to a sales process can also promote better reporting and analysis. Lead and sales opportunities can be classified at each stage of the sales cycle and therefore critical stages can be isolated and reviewed by team leaders or region managers.
As with other workflow examples, using a configurable CRM workflow in the sales process can also force users to complete various fields of information as they progress the record through the workflow. This ultimately avoids incomplete data or ‘lazy’ data entry.