Convergence of Workflow Solutions and Email

by Vishal Shanbhag

Posted on February 16, 2014 at 8:21 pm

By Vishal Shanbhag – YuDoGlobal, Senior Technical Architect

Wikipedia defines business processes as “A business process or business method is a collection of related, structured activities or tasks that produce a specific service or product (serve a particular goal) for a particular customer or customers”. Over the years several businesses have sought to optimize their businesses via an approach better known as Businesses Process Management. This has led to the emergence of several technology product / solutions aka workflow solutions.

Before embarking on my journey with YuDoGlobal, I spent several years as a technologist in-charge of developing and managing such workflow solutions in the banking industry. My team was often responsible for automation business processes that involved collaboration between several groups.

At the beginning of any such project, the businesses analysts would typically describe a business process involving some data being processed by several groups within the firm. Each group would have some responsibilities and then information would be passed on to the next group for their processing.

Whether it was processing loan applications, trades or even responding to customer’s queries it is almost as if the data associated with that process was being passed through, borrowing from Manufacturing paradigm, an “Assembly line”. The various groups involved were thus the “skilled craftsmen” tasked with doing parts of the assembly and thus a key component in forming this analogy.

But what about the Conveyor? – the other key component of the assembly line.

I would imagine before the advent of desktop computers, messenger boys would be hired to be the conveyor and pass around the paperwork from one desk to another. As Desktop Computers replaced the typewriters, Electronic Mail (e-mail) has become the conveyor. Email itself has now been around for more than 2 decades and is now omnipresent. Over the years email has now become an essential tool in any enterprise. An email address is one of the first resources, after a desk and a computer that is allotted to any new employee. All sorts of communications such as reports, approvals to even holiday applications are routed through email.

Email addresses are not just limited to personal work email addresses. Teams or sometimes even whole divisions and departments have email addresses and distribution lists to allow for dissemination of information beyond just individuals. Often such email addresses become essential part of business process. Then each email that arrives on such a team email address is not just a piece of communication. It is a Task or a To Do. It thus has implicit requirements such as an expectation of response or a timeliness of completing the action.

Email however lacks inbuilt support for distribution of work, reporting or audit. Of course, here the argument in favor email is that it always meant to be a channel of dissemination of information and it is extremely efficient at that. That said, these additional expectations have led businesses to look out for alternative solutions to cater to these expectations. Workflow solutions cater to exactly this need. Either such a solution is bought in form of a ready solution available in the market or months / years of effort are spent developing them. As a technologist I spent years developing several such solutions. Almost always solutions catered to a specific problem at hand or a specific businesses process. I call these “point” solutions. Each point solution worked efficiently for the specific process. Interactions with end users brought encouraging feedback such as improved efficiency business process, time savings, cost savings and so on.

These point solutions would result in Applications that would have a separate internal conveyor for flow of information. End users were expected to look into the application for information associated with their specific business process. Over a period of time we observed that we would get requests from end users such as notifications of new tasks, and status changes in their email. There were even cases where the arrival of an email at some specific address was the starting point of a process. Then there were managers who would rather check reports delivered in their email account than check them by opening the business application. So despite moving the core process out of email into a point solution, we ended up integrating the point solution with email.

Today most employees in large organizations start their day by checking their email. It is an essential part of every employee’s routine. This is almost independent of the role or department of the employee. There is an implicit expectation that all employees check their email – that is as long as an employee has access to a device that can connect to the corporate email account. The aforementioned problems with email continue to exist and so do the point solutions that attempt to solve those problems. It is almost as if there is an impending need for convergence of both.

At YuDoGlobal, as we began our journey of developing our first product – YuDoMail, we recognized this very need of convergence of email and workflow. Thus one of our first steps in product development was a seamless integration with email. YuDoMail now provides not just a workflow solution but something that can totally take the place of the team mailbox or distribution list. As I conclude this article, I think that YuDoMail is not the first to recognize this need but certainly has the next evolutionary solution for it. Suffice to say that as Email itself enters its 50s (as suggested by wiki entry on email) the stage is set for some exciting changes.

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