A friend of mine asked me a good question recently.  Why use workflow tools?  In other words, if I were to run into the CIO on an elevator and I had 60 seconds to describe the value of workflow tools, what would I say?

I had to think about it.  Here’s what I came up with.

IT costs too much and delivers too slowly.  There are many causes, so we have to work on each one. 

  1. We can write code more efficiently (agile development),
  2. We can make simpler, more maintainable systems, (reducing TCO with SOA)
  3. We can put control of those systems in the hands of the business (Adaptable Workflow).

We address the third problem with workflow.  Workflow tools are to business processes what Relational databases are to data management. 

By using workflow tools, we can

  • Make our systems adaptable to business change by allowing small parts of the business to customize their own little niche of a large application. 
  • Allow business people (we call them ‘information workers’) the ability to change their business process much more quickly and less expensively than if they had to call a programmer.
  • Seperate complex business rules from simple applications, making it easier to change one without affecting the other.
  • We can hire fewer of those expensive software developers (in any country) and instead pay business people to think about markets, products, and sales.

It is time to put workflow where it belongs: in the hands of the people doing the work.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

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