Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Understanding Workflow Automation: A Foundation

One of the topics that you will read about frequently in upcoming blog postings is Workflow Automation. It’s a topic we all here at Savigent are pretty enthusiastic about because it’s a big part of what we do with our customers. And the feedback we get is consistently positive because Workflow Automation based solutions pay for themselves – providing a significant return on investment. This posting is to provide a simple foundation around the concept, particularly as it relates to Workflow Automation within Savigent’s Catalyst suite of products.

When we talk about Workflow Automation, what we are specifically referring to is a controlled system in which business processes, standard work, operating procedures, etc. can be implemented. It is Business Process Management (BPM) specifically designed to be applied within the manufacturing environment. It allows companies to migrate paper-based processes and procedures to a controlled electronic system for execution.

Workflows are comprised of events (that instantiate or influence the execution of workflows), automated actions (that interact with systems and/or equipment), user actions (that interact with people) and logical elements (that direct the execution of the workflow). They can be implemented individually to meet a focused need, or architected into systems to meet higher level functional needs. Any software functionality can be implemented as a system of workflows.

The manufacturing environment is a complex and diverse collection of systems, equipment and people operating in concert, unified by process. Processes are developed to handle standard activities that define how we manufacturing goods for sale. They are also developed to handle exception events that define how we respond to situations that should not happen but all too often do. Whatever the focus, manufacturers invest time, effort and energy in defining and continuously improving those processes that most significantly influence their ability to execute profitably. Workflow Automation is the logical next step in the evolution of processes in the manufacturing environment and it provides a wealth of benefits:

Guaranteed Execution and Compliance - Implementing a process as a workflow guarantees execution and compliance – that is to say, the desired response to an event will be taken every time.

Traceability and Process Genealogy - Because workflows operate in a controlled electronic system, they are highly traceable and provide a wealth of execution related information – what happened, how long it took, who did it, when they did it, etc.

Manufacturing Intelligence – All data that touches a workflow through its execution is stored in Catalyst for posterity. This related data, when combined with the execution history of the workflows, provides a tremendous source of manufacturing intelligence all correlated around the most important factor to our customer – their business processes.

Operational Efficiency – Workflow execution is managed by a controlled electronic system. Interactions with it, by systems, equipment and people, are as a result orchestrated. We see customers realize operational benefits simply by implementing workflows from existing paper-based operations without change. Even greater benefits are realized when efforts are made to Pareto execution paths, optimize execution, and refine workflows and behaviors.

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