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Workflow Computing

process wfms business systems

Definition: Workflow Management Systems (WfMS) have been defined as “technology based systems that define, manage, and execute workflow processes through the execution of software whose order of execution is driven by a computer representation of the workflow process logic”.

This limits the usability of WfMS in a world where constant adaptation to new situations is necessary and where teams are increasingly mobile and distributed. Workflow management systems are typically organizationally aware because they contain an explicit representation of organizational processes. In recent years there have been considerable attempts to merge workflow, groupware, and knowledge management technologies. Industrial research labs and product teams have made significant steps forward. A WfMS can impose a rigid work environment on users, which often has a consequence. One example is among users who perform time-consuming manual “work around”; the consequence is lower efficiency and dissatisfaction with the system.

Workflow automation provides unique opportunities for enabling and tracking information flow as well as monitoring of work performance. As a consequence, WfMS enable continuous loops of sub processes such as goal setting, working, monitoring the work, measuring performance, recording and analyzing the outputs and evaluating the “productivity” of personnel. Users of WfMS often consider the controlling and monitoring possibilities as a “dark side” of these systems, which results in demotivating employees. A business process has well defined inputs and outputs and serves a meaningful purpose either inside or between organizations. Business processes and their corresponding workflows exist as logical models. When business process models are executed they have specific instances. When instantiated, the whole workflow is called a work case.

The WfMS enacts the real world business process for each process instance. A business process consists of a sequence of activities. An activity is a distinct process step and may be performed either by a human agent or by a machine. Any activity may consist of one or more tasks. A set of tasks to be worked on by a user (human agent or machine) is called work list. The work list itself is managed by the WfMS. The WfMC calls the individual task on the work list work item. To summarize, a workflow is the instantiated (enacted or executed) business process, either in whole or in parts. During enactment of a business process, documents, which are associated to tasks, are passed from one task participant to another. In most cases this passing of documents or executing applications is performed according to a set of rules. A WfMS is responsible for control and coordination such as instantiating the workflow, assigning human or non-human agents to perform activities, generating worklists for individuals, and routing tasks and their associated objects such as documents between the agents. For an indepth analysis of Workflow computing we refer to and for a discussion of the hybrid systems integrating Workflow and Groupware Computing we refer to.

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