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Workflow Made Easy

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Today, effective management of your business processes is more important than ever as the workforce becomes more decentralized with trends such as increased outsourcing and increased telecommuting. That’s where Lotus Notes may be able to help. It’s well known for its ability to create electronic workflow systems. But, before you decide to write even one piece of a workflow application, you should consider a Lotus product that extends and enhances the native workflow capabilities of a Notes/Domino environment. Before I attempt to explain why this product may be worth considering, it will be helpful to examine the concept of workflow.

A business process describes the methods to achieve a business objective. Workflow is concerned with the process by which specific information or activities are passed from one participant, or system, to another. Normally, well-defined procedures exist that make clear the routing and the actions to be taken within a process. To illustrate, here’s a simple example of workflow. An employee fills out an equipment request form. The employee forwards the request to a manager who decides whether to approve or deny it. If approved, the request is forwarded to the purchasing department, where a purchase order is then generated. The process continues until the equipment is received by the employee and considered acceptable.

Electronic workflow concerns the automation of business processes to make them more efficient and less likely to get stalled or hung up at a particular stage or with a particular person. To develop effective electronic workflow systems, you must start by properly defining the business processes. This could mean redefining the process over and over again. It is only after management is confident with the process definition that the implementation of a system should proceed.

When it comes to implementing your workflow, Lotus Domino, especially on the AS/400, may be the best choice to develop and deliver your workflow system. After all, Lotus Domino/Notes is probably the most mature workflow application environment on the market, and the AS/400 is even more mature as a platform on which to run the application.

However, the designer product (Domino Designer) for Notes applications does not provide tools for creating or modifying a workflow process. The workflow application designer must translate the knowledge of the workflow system and build the logic and security features (e.g., routing authorizations) of the Notes application using available tools. The developer must have a thorough understanding of the workflow process to be able to implement it in terms of the components and functions of Domino Designer. Yes, Designer has the components and functions to support a workflow system, but the

assembly and maintenance of those components are the responsibility of the developer. Unless a workflow system is very simple, the task of translating the workflow design into a working application can be challenging. The ongoing maintenance of the application can be even more challenging, as processes change and personnel associated with them leave or transfer to other departments within an organization. Before I attempt to explain this product, it will be helpful to examine the concept of workflow.

Domino Workflow (DWF) bridges workflow design and application implementation. Its workflow modeling system allows you to visually design a Domino Workflow application. Many of the common functions of a workflow application, such as routing of documents and tasks as well as the linking of activities to appropriate persons or groups, are automatically built by DWF in a way that they can be incorporated into a new or existing Notes application.

DWF makes it possible to design, develop, and maintain even complex workflow applications with little or no knowledge of programming Notes applications. What you do need is a good understanding of your business processes and how those elements translate into Domino Workflow concepts. It’s likely that even management could use the DWF tool to design a workflow system.

DWF contains three major components: Workflow Architect, Workflow Engine, and Workflow Viewer. The Workflow Architect is a visual design tool that allows you to define the relationships between your business’ rules, its organizational structure, and the objects that make up a workflow system (such as documents). The Workflow Engine is a collection of Notes applications that contain the actual application code needed to run workflow processes defined by the Architect. Workflow applications are executed within the Engine. The Workflow Viewer allows the Notes workflow application users to view the status and context of activities in the workflow process defined for the application.

One feature of DWF that can greatly simplify your organization’s link between departments, personnel, and workgroups to the activities of your workflow processes is the Organization Directory database. It can be initially loaded from your Domino Directory
(a.k.a. the Public Address Book). The Organization Directory lists people, workgroups, departments, roles, relations, and job properties that you can access as you build your workflow application. You essentially create an organization chart before you begin any workflow development. The Organization Directory is inherently linked to any workflow design you create. It can significantly reduce the liability of maintaining the organization structure at a function and code level in the Notes application. For example, if an employee begins to report to a new manager, that change is simply handled in the Organization Directory—no code changes are required in the workflow application.

If you plan on using Lotus Notes to develop workflow applications, consider Domino Workflow. You will need to invest some time to learn how to use it, but in the long run, your workflow applications will be more predictable, flexible, and able to handle the inevitable process and personnel changes that occur in business. If you’re going to do workflow, make it easy.



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