Making Alfabet Your Own - part 6

Configuring workflows

Issue 3, 2018 Download PDF

Introduction – Why workflows?

Business and IT transformation involves many collaborative processes that are interconnected and interdependent. To solve a higher-level task many—often different—activities have to be executed. These activities usually have a specific order but, depending on the concrete situation, not necessary all of them have to be executed. Different staff members are often involved in the activities, which means that they have to be coordinated. Especially for decision-relevant activities, documentation of the process execution is important. This is why workflows are such an important functionality in enterprise architecture, IT planning and portfolio management.

Further, it is crucial that processes run efficiently and effectively to maintain IT’s agility in supporting business change. For a process to be effective and efficient it must be ensured that it is carried out in the prescribed manner (the manner decided upon which should bring about the desired result in the least amount of time). This can only be done if processes are standardized and automated. Besides the obvious benefits of better coordination, process documentation and increased planning speed and accuracy, automated workflows also provide other benefits to the enterprise:

  • Integration of the business and IT transformation discipline into the whole organization. Workflows can be used to propagate the responsibility for business and IT planning and management throughout the organization and thus improve the quality of planning results as well as promote backing from stakeholders.
  • Improvement of IT/business collaboration. Designing workflows in which the business plays a role gets business to the table with IT. Business and IT then confer on common terminology for the articulation of strategy, risk, business cases and IT support as well as roles and responsibilities in the enterprise transformation process.
  • Maintenance of the integrity of stage gate processes. Workflows ensure information is available at the time of decision making and that the relevant stakeholders are involved in the process.
  • Attestation of information currency and accuracy. Much of the information used for transformation decision making requires high data quality and currency. Establishing attestation processes obliges users to reflect on the data they are responsible for and provides confidence to decision makers, such as portfolio managers or auditors.
  • Support for IT governance. Providing for transparency, reliability and traceability as well as ensuring alignment to policies and timelines helps maintain governance and keep IT up to speed in business and IT transformation processes.
  • Continuous process improvement. Automation of processes allows performance tracking for the processes and process improvement based on the tracking information.

Alfabet delivers basic, best-practice workflows out of the box, such as those for project planning approval, project solution evaluation and application retirement. These can be modified by customers as needed and, of course, new workflows can be configured to support the individual organization’s transformation implementation.

Creating workflows

A workflow is based on a configured workflow template that determines a sequence of workflow steps that is to be performed. The exact sequence of steps to go through as well as the users responsible for the execution of the tasks are determined through dynamically evaluated, configurable business rules. The workflow designer defines the tasks to be completed for each workflow step, which views are required by the user to complete the workflow step (for example, a wizard, an editor, or an object view), and whether pre- and post-conditions are needed to determine the path of the workflow after tasks are completed.

Furthermore, actions such as the automatic update of a release status can be configured to be triggered and performed by the system. Users can be automatically informed via configured or standard email notifications when they become responsible for a workflow step, when a deadline for step completion is pending, or simply because they are supposed to be informed.

Figure 1: Here we see the workflow template for demand management.

A diagram capability is available that allows the workflow designer to configure the workflow template in a diagram format. This allows visualization of the workflow as it is being configured, thus simplifying the task of sequencing the workflow steps. You can click any workflow step visualized in the diagram and configure its attributes in a table. It is also used to visualize the current status and execution path to date for running or completed workflows based on the template.

Figure 2: Workflow diagrams are interactive, allowing the user to click on any of the workflow steps to find out more information, such as responsible users and when a step was initiated and ended.

Using workflows

Alfabet provides several options for users to process their workflow activities. The standard Workflow Activities Explorer or a custom explorer that the administrator configures can be made available to the users as an alternative to the tabular datasets visualized in the My Workflow Activities functionalities. Both the standard Workflow Activities Explorer and a custom explorer have the advantage that the content displayed can be customized per workflow activity.

The Workflow Activities Explorer functionality features a design and layout of data in Alfabet similar to established email management systems so that users can more easily and efficiently accomplish their workflow tasks. The explorer structure is pre- configured and cannot be changed for the Workflow Activities Explorer but the data displayed in the right pane when a workflow activity is selected in the explorer is configurable, and users can be provided with precisely the data they need in order to process the task at hand with a minimum number of clicks and navigation to other views.

In a windowed view familiar to Outlook® users, workflow tasks are cleanly separated into "Open," "Finished" and "Expired" tasks. The generally available explorer search function can be used to find activities containing a specific term. The activity view’s redesign provides more comprehensive descriptions of the activity at hand, such as "Previous Task" and "Contributors to Previous Task," links to a variety of additional information such as the workflow diagram or contact information for contributors, as well as enhanced visual prompts to gauge relevance and importance of the activity. Additionally, the object to which the activity pertains is also described, and the user can drill down for more information on the object targeted by the workflow. Furthermore, the workflow designer can assign terms and icons to each of the standard interactions, e.g., Perform or Confirm, for each individual workflow step. This provides better guidance for users in performing their tasks and helps them gauge the importance of each task as well as time required for its execution.

Figure 3: The Workflow Activities Explorer provides a list of open activities in a view similar to an inbox. Button names and icons as diagrams are interactive, allowing the user to click on any of the workflow steps to find out more information, such as responsible users and when a step was initiated and ended.

Stay tuned for our next episode on Configuring Reports in Alfabet.