Ad Hoc Workflow and ECM

first_imgThe terms Ad-hoc workflow and Ad-hoc routing describe a type of business process that defies easy capture and description.  They refer to business processes that are created in a dynamic and flexible manner.  An Ad-hoc workflow describes the creative work process of a group of knowledge workers.  It usually isn’t feasible to rigidly model ad-hoc workflow scenarios because this type of workflow happens very infrequently and the interactions of the actors in the scenarios aren’t easily anticipated or quantifiable.Standard Business Process Management (BPM) and workflow tools are great for achieving large paybacks in terms of increased efficiencies for high-volume, very reproducible workflow scenarios.  Loan and insurance form processing are two applications that immediately come to mind as classic examples of where workflow has been applied with success.Outside the world of high-volume workflow, successful solutions that identify the needs and accelerate the interaction of knowledge workers have been harder to come by.  One exception is the wiki.  Wikis have filled a niche in the collaboration tool space for enabling group publishing of content.  In a business environment, a wiki can be an important tool for members within a group to communicate, but it is weak in handling situations where control is needed in specifying who needs to contribute and within what time frame a comment is required.Ad-hoc workflow in the form of business interactions are happening all the time, but boiling down the common features of all these interactions is hard to do.  One commonality found in the majority of high-value interactions in the workplace is the solitication for collaboration and review comments from team members and business partners. A review process, for example, almost always centers around a file, form or document that contains a visual or written description of the task under review.  Ideally the review process will track revision histories and manage the process securely.  When thought of this way, document management is a natural foundation for supporting ad-hoc reviews.  Document management is a central component of ECM and allows the secure tracking of document version and revision histories.Another natural tool that can support ad-hoc workflows, like the review process, is email. SPAM and security issues though threaten this approach.One example of a promising technology was a proprietary technology called Zaplets that began evolving 4-5 years ago.  Zaplets embedded collaborative forms and documents directly within the email payload.  When you would open the HTML email message in your favorite email client tool, you would immediately see the collaborative form or document embedded as HTML.  Data in the Zaplet was synchronized with a central server.  The user could then interact with the email HTML form and submit or forward his contributions to the email payload.Zaplet technology didn’t survive, possibly due to security and email client vulnerabilities to Javascript embedded within emails.  But while the Zaplet technology failed, the concept of adopting the email client as part of the collaboration solution is compelling, especially given the fact that most knowledge workers spend the better part of their work day working within email. With the Formtek’s WebReview application, we’ve integrated email into the review process by allowing secure document URLs to be sent as part of the email message body.  Before being able to access and comment on the contents of the review, the recipient is fully authenticated.  The content being reviewed is securely stored and versioned within the central ECM repository.  In this way actions can be distributed to reviewers via secure links referenced from within email with no dependence on a specific email client.Email is sure to evolve, but currently because of it’s widespread acceptance, using it as a tool to support Ad Hoc Workflow and Review activities makes great sense.last_img

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