The Noggin Blog

Workflows and Business Process Management: A primer

Posted by The Brain on May 31, 2019 4:17:54 AM


The data shows that automating and streamlining business processes help organizations realize extraordinary productivity gains. There’s a revenue implication, here, too. Firms get to reduce costs driven by process inefficiencies. But how do workflows and business process management materialize into topline business gains. Our workflows and business process management primer gives you the rundown.

Definitions, first. What’s a workflow? Well, a workflow is basically synonymous with a network of tasks. The Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC), the standards-defining body for the interoperability of workflow management systems, provides a more formal definition:

Any automation of a process or system (in whole or part) during which documents, information, or tasks are passed from one participant to another for action (activities), according to a set of procedural rules.


In other words, workflows describe the series of connected interactions between people and corporate systems. Those interactions are necessary for understanding, evaluating, and redesigning any kind of business process.

Effective workflow management is elastic enough to meet the (task) automation needs of any of the three major types of business management processes. Those processes can be material, informational, or purely business in nature:

  • Material processes. Assembly of physical components and delivery of physical products. Relates to human tasks like moving, storing, transforming, measuring, and assembling physical objects.
  • Information processes. Related to automated and partially automated tasks that create, process, manage, and provide information. Typically rooted in an organization’s structure and/or existing environment of information systems.
  • Business processes. Market-centered descriptions of an organization’s activities, implemented primarily as information processes. Engineered to fulfill a business contract or satisfy a specific customer need.

Large business transformations usually get mapped out at the business process level. Organizations capture their business in terms of business processes. They, then, reengineer those processes to meet changing requirements, like increased customer satisfaction, improved efficiency of business operations, increased quality of products, reduced costs, major shifts in existing services, or introduction of new ones.

Information process reengineering, on the other hand, is harder for senior managers to grasp. But it’s a complementary function. Just think about it, automating business processes, once they’ve been reengineered, means tackling information processes, too.

In all of this, workflow management is the conduit. Workflow management solutions support the reengineering of both business and information processes. The supporting management technology defines, creates, and manages the execution of workflows, which then interpret the underlying process definition, interact with workflow participants, and (if necessary) invoke the use of other tools and applications to complete the task in question.

What other core workflow management functionality enables effective business process management? Describing aspects of a process that are relevant to controlling and coordinating the execution of its tasks, for one. Examples, here, include evaluating whether existing resources (personnel or technologies) have the requisite capabilities to perform the tasks. Another: providing for fast redesign and reimplementation of the process as business needs and information systems change.

Keen to learn how else workflows unlock business transformation? Download our comprehensive guide to find out.

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James Caverlee et al, Information Knowledge Systems Management: Workflow management for enterprise transformation.
Diimitrios Georgakopoulos et al, Distributed and Parallel Databases: An overview of workflow management: From process modelling to workflow automation infrastructure.


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