What Is A Workflow Engine? (With Six Key Benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 24 October 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Companies often use computer programs to automate tasks and ensure employees complete each step of complex work processes. While these tools might require training and customisation, they can provide a range of benefits to employees and managers, including increased productivity and improved data compliance. If you are an IT or management professional, learning about systems that enhance efficiency, like workflow engines, can help you choose the tools to make your team successful. In this article, we define workflow engines, explain how they work and share six benefits of using these tools in the workplace.

What Is A Workflow Engine?

A workflow engine is a system that allows users to install and customise workflow software. These applications let project managers, IT specialists and other business professionals automate business workflows, or processes for common tasks within an organisation. While these platforms can be complex pieces of software, they usually have low-code visual builders, which are tools that a professional can use to design processes without using much code. This feature makes these systems appropriate for business professionals who have limited or no formal coding experience, along with IT managers and other computer science experts.

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How Do These Systems Work?

While individual systems may have their own customised workflows, most of them follow this basic model:

  • A user initiates a process, like submitting a request for pricing or onboarding a new employee, and records their action in the system.

  • The system follows the programmed workflow and either completes the next task in the workflow or notifies an employee, who completes the task. Their actions might be time-stamped to allow auditing later.

  • When the system records that every task in the workflow is done, it marks the process as completed.

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6 Benefits Of Using Workflow Engines

Here are some key benefits of using these software platforms:

1. Reduced error rates

Many business processes have multiple steps, and these tools ensure that the process contains each necessary step. Depending on the program's customisation, users might receive an alert when it is their turn to perform a specific task or a notification when the tool completes an automated task for them. These platforms might include a built-in task manager, which records the time and date each step gets completed. That way, a team lead or manager can audit any process easily. The automation and ability to audit processes can reduce an organisation's error rate, increasing productivity and revenue.

For example, a large financial institution might use one of these business engine platforms for the loan application process. Depending on the type of loan and the qualifications of the applicant, the process might require a certain number of authorisations from different professionals at the financial institution. The engine allows the applicant to apply online and then submits the form to the different people who provide authorisation. It might also record who authorised the document at each step. This measure ensures that everyone involved in the loan dispensation process sees the documentation and provides their authorisation.

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2. Standardised processes

These systems can provide a standard method for accomplishing complex tasks, which makes it easier to train new employees and find substitutes for absent ones. When individual members of a team have different ways to complete key tasks, it can be difficult for them to collaborate. If one member of the team is sick or absent for a personal reason, varying work processes can cause delays as the rest of the team tries to complete their unfinished tasks. Having a system that prompts employees to complete tasks in a certain order creates a smoother work process.

For example, the HR manager at a growing company might decide to adopt a standardised process for onboarding new employees. Previously, the manager had allowed individual specialists to design their own onboarding process, but as the company expands, the hiring speed has increased. A standardised process can make onboarding quicker and allow HR specialists to onboard multiple employees at one time. It can also allow the HR manager to hire new HR specialists and train them quickly to meet the company's hiring needs. They might use a specialised HR workflow program and customise it to fit the company.

Related: What Are User Onboarding Tools? (With Benefits And Examples)

3. Increased efficiency

By eliminating redundancy and structuring tasks, these tools can increase a department or organisation's efficiency, allowing employees to be more productive without adding extra work. Using these systems can allow an organisation to expand, while keeping employees' workload manageable. They can also eliminate the need for certain administrative positions, allowing managers to build streamlined, agile teams.

For example, a small company might have a single employee responsible for approving expenses and reimbursing employees when they spend their own money on work-related products and services. An analog work process for this function might involve collecting receipts, verifying payments and writing cheques or adjusting paycheques in a payment software program. If they use a workflow system for this process, the program can request receipts from employees who submit reimbursement requests, scan the receipts to transfer amounts to reimbursement forms and alert the employees upon approval, saving the employee valuable time.

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4. Improved compliance

Organisations in certain industries follow strict regulations about how they use consumer or patient data. For example, hospitals might have rules about which employees can see patient files and who else can access them. These regulations might be industry standards or mandated by law, and managers might conduct compliance audits to ensure proper data use. Using a system to automate workflows can add an extra layer of data security because these tools often allow system administrators to place locks on certain information or databases. Employees might enter a passcode or go through a two-step authentication process before gaining access.

For example, a hospital's records department might have a software program that directs the intake process. Administrative employees might have unique identification codes that grant them access to the patient database. The platform might prompt them to enter certain pieces of information and then store the information securely. Different pieces of information, like name, age and medical history, might have unique levels of security, so certain employees might have access to different patient profiles. This helps ensure that the patient's sensitive medical details remain confidential.

Related: Governance, Risk And Compliance Tools (With Benefits)

5. Task automation

Along with sending prompts to employees to complete tasks, these platforms can also complete certain tasks automatically. While most workflows require a person to start the process, system administrators can build workflows that feature a mix of manual and automatic tasks. When an employee starts a process, they can trigger certain automated tasks that the system completes. Automation can save a department valuable time and increase employee satisfaction, as they can focus on more challenging and interesting tasks. These programs can also complete highly technical or complex tasks, like processing vast amounts of data easily.

These systems are common in IT management because they allow IT specialists to delegate minor tasks to the program, allowing them to focus on higher-level coding and engineering issues. IT teams might use these programs to decipher and delegate tickets or collect operational data from the computer submitting the ticket. Often, the IT manager designs the ticketing platform to ask for specific information from users, making it easier for the workflow system to classify the ticket and send it to the correct technician.

Related: Automation Of Processes (With Definition And Examples)

6. Enhanced project management capabilities

Many of these platforms feature task management and collaboration tools, which help project managers direct their teams more effectively. These tools can be particularly useful to project managers who work in remote or hybrid workplaces, because they allow team members to submit work and verify completion of key tasks from anywhere. These programs also help project managers create project plans by suggesting common workflow processes for certain projects or by providing templates.

For example, a marketing manager might use one of these systems for project management and create a project plan from a supplied template. The system might integrate with the task management and chat tools that the team already uses, making it easy for team members to communicate and submit completed material to the project plan. When they complete their assigned task, team members can click a box that records their submission and triggers the prompt for the next stage of the plan.

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