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Smart Enterprise Workflow: A New Governance Model for the Competitive Global Enterprise

  • August 01 2007, 1:00am EDT

The Global Economy and the Need for Governance

In today's global economy, competition is marked by the need to innovate. Innovation is a requirement regardless of whether a company is manufacturing or service based. However, within those requirements lies the need for governance that can adapt with innovations.

Governance is concerned with verifying and validating the value and effectiveness of processes in terms of productivity and enterprise strategy. The productivity and profitability of organizations depend on the efficacy of their business processes.1 Workflow governance is concerned with processes requiring human resources executed in accordance with a prescribed set of rules and ensuring these processes are valuable, productive and effaceable.

Workflow governance historically had a starting point of process modeling, leading to simulation, and culminating in some form of process surveillance and analysis, which leads to further modeling. However, under the historic means of governance, disparate tools are required at each phase, and there is currently no interoperability between them. Also, information and data sharing, both for process execution as well as process performance, is difficult and proprietary, often leading to poor process performance.

Figure 1 : Overarching Historic Workflow Model

Using the historic workflow model, there are interoperability limitations that leave critical information locked in silos, rather than spread across the organization leveraging knowledge workers with the skills to resolve problems. The solution lies in redefining the workflow governance model with interoperable tools that function as a suite, with a single source of process design and execution. Business activity monitors (BAM) must unlock proprietary metric data held within their data stores. The monitors must meld with tools capable of sophisticated statistical analysis, along with the ability to extract critical information from silos and open this information to knowledge workers via portals - the most sophisticated and open technology for information sharing today. Smart enterprise workflow (SEW) governance models address the shortcomings of historic models in that process engineering, workflow execution and enterprise document management tools are made interoperable through a common language. Work performed in process engineering tools is reused rather than re-worked in workflow and document management engines. Furthermore, BAM tools are also integrated into the suite using the same technology. Rather than redefining process models in BAM tools, models under workflow execution, or defined in process engineering, tools are reused and immediately deployment ready. Figure 2 describes the new governance model in terms of the flow information and interaction of applications in the suite.

Figure 2: New Governance Model of SEW

SEW is a suite of interoperable software solutions integrated within the governance model and through a common language and user interface. The suite includes workflow, enterprise content management (ECM), BAM, portals and project plan integration.

The outcome and value of SEW is continuous process improvement and continued innovation in process designs. The integration of disparate products into a suite of interoperable products reduces the sheer volume of applications necessary to carry out many critical business functions from the shop floor to the executive offices. It further decreases the amount of effort required to instrument each software package.

Smart Enterprise Workflow Components

SEW is comprised of workflow, document management, portals, BAM and project plans capabilities. Independently, each component is a point solution. The entire SEW solution, however, enables business to achieve not only optimal efficiency given a static process design, but also continuous improvement. Each component in the SEW stack adds value to the whole.

Workflow is a necessary component as processes must not only be standardized but executable as well. Without standardization of processes, continuous improvement in processes is not possible. Workflow provides a means with which information is routed in accordance with established rules. It also provides a means with which monitoring takes place. Workflow is the backbone of SEW.

ECM provides the means to capture, manage, store, preserve, and deliver content and documents related to organizational processes. Furthermore, it allows the management of an organization's unstructured information, wherever that information exists.2 Content management facilitates the sharing of information as well as changes to information over time.

Content management, however, does not dictate ease of use, user interfaces or means of distribution. Portals offer the necessary solution to implement these concepts. Furthermore, the portal's expansion into the ECM space is evidence that it is an appropriate fit.

One of the greatest advantages portals offer is access to disparate forms of information with a consistent user interface . The possibility of being able to engage in more business activities using a familiar portal or application interface is attractive to organizations that want to provide a consistent electronic working environment for their employees and reduce the learning curve when new software is deployed.3 As previously stated, workflow is the backbone of SEW. Just as workflow is the backbone, portals become the glue of SEW, uniting all capabilities under a singular access control and common user interface.

The centerpiece of SEW is BAM. At the heart of process improvements lies the ability to measure processes performance based on standardized process flows and key performance indicators (KPIs). However, unlike many of today's BAM solutions, KPIs must be enabled at the project level, as opposed to the activity level alone. It is true that there are instances where companies focus on processes that do not distinguish between projects or products. However, missed by many of the BAM solutions today is the fact that a single process can be used for many different projects and products. Consider, for example, Toyota manufacturing: the same process may be used to manufacture two different cars; yet, process KPIs may vary widely between them. As another example, consider the case of Wal-Mart promoting a new stock item. While the distribution and sales processes may be the same as for other products, Wal-Mart will likely have a completely different set of expectations and therefore different KPIs for each promotion. Project level KPIs are a standard component of BAM within the SEW suite.

Continuous improvement in process design dictates constant monitoring of process activities and evaluation of process metrics. Typically, BAM tools generate dashboards. In the SEW framework, however, dashboards are integrated into portals. Meanwhile, business-monitoring alerts have a more complex distribution channel including, but not limited to, email, cell phone text messaging, and any other channel that yields instant notification.

Finally, project plans are integrated into SEW. As communicated previously, most companies operate at the project management level.4 Project definitions must be integrated into the workflow paradigm, from which flow all of the benefits of SEW. Along with project definitions come cost and time metrics, which in turn become KPIs for BAM. Strictly speaking however, KPIs yielded from project templates are problematic. To illustrate, KPIs may yield alerts when a task has failed to complete on time or when a line-items budget is exceeded. Though this information is important, often by the time it is available, it is too late to act. To resolve these problems, projects must be designed with intelligent milestones that yield KPIs and subsequent alerts while there is still time to act and correct.

Project templates are converted to an executable format in the form of workflow. The transformation must take place seamlessly using a standardized modeling language, and XPDL is the leading candidate for such a standard. The XML model of the project is the carrier of information. The distribution channel may be standardized Web services.

Criticality of Integration

SEW is not a mere amalgamation of disparate tools operating independently, but rather an integrated suite, perhaps from different vendors, acting together as a whole. SEW does not require a single vendor to offer bulk software that performs all tasks. The gap between tooling must be bridged by standards.

While workflow is the core of SEW, workflow is not designed in workflow engines; it is designed in process modeling tools as well as project definition tools and implemented in workflow engines. The flow of information requires a standardized language that carries with it no loss of information from one tool to the next. XPDL is the leading language for this purpose. XPDL, specifically designed for the purpose of workflow, describes processes and their activities in a manner that makes it possible execute workflow, and govern process and activity performance. BPEL, another candidate language, lacks the semantic expressiveness needed to describe these activities and their performance criteria in a normative manner to support inference analysis on the performance of individual activities and the overall business process.5

Furthermore, integration itself must be seamless and effortless. Document management systems, which control the flow of documents and document versioning, must deliver them to portals upon request. BAM tools must pull process flows for monitoring directly from workflow engines. Workflow engines must pull their design from process modeling and project definition tools. Portals must work with document management systems so that changes and comments are cataloged, versioned and persisted.

The difference between using a series of tools from disparate vendors and a suite is the way in which tools interact with one another. As an example of interoperability, workflow engines may expose through a set of standardized Web services the extraction of definitions in a language such as XPDL to other tools in the SEW stack. Each software component in the stack is capable of retrieving and delivering definitions to be acted upon. The SEW vision does not specify a single vendor framework. Most importantly, the SEW vision mandates interoperability, without resorting to rework on the part of practitioners, in a seamless fashion, as though the entire SEW framework was delivered by a single vendor.

SEW is a framework of collaborating applications forming an integrated suite of software that enterprises use to formulate, implement, improve and monitor enterprise-level processes and projects. One of the values of SEW is the design-once and reuse capability for process designs. The same processes executing in a workflow engine are used in BAM applications without further rework or instrumentation. Another value of SEW is constant process monitoring toward process improvement. Executable processes (workflow) provide the only means available to perform process improvement.

Finally, real-time business intelligence (BI), unlike BI gleaned from data warehouses, allows process metrics and costs to be analyzed and summarized upon demand when needed and when the data can still be applied to improve results. Real-time BI frees managers from waiting for data warehouse reports before acting upon potential problems.

Notably for the customers, SEW does not require a single vendor to implement its stack but is instead based on interoperability. Therefore, customers are able to maximize existing investments, focus on the specific solutions best addressing their own needs and higher niche quality solutions.


  1. Thomas, M., Redmond, R., Yoon, V., Singh, R. (December 2005). A semantic approach to monitor business process performance. Communications of the ACM 48 (12), 55-59.
  2. Duhon, B. Patel, J. and Tucker, R. (2005). What is content management? AIIM.
  3. Lamont, J. (April 1, 2005). Smart by any name - Enterprise suites offer broad benefits. KM World.
  4. Coleman, D. (March 1, 2004). Are smart enterprise suites smart?
  5. 5. Thompson, et al.

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