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Tip: Guidelines for assessing if SAP workflow is right for your business needs

by Kristin Bent

March 3, 2011

Many IT teams today leverage SAP Business Workflow functionality to track and automate repeatable business processes, saving them both resources and time.

While the value of Workflow is clear, like any application, it can be tricky to implement and get going. For Workflow, specifically, one of the biggest challenges can be determining which business processes are a good “fit” for automation.

Below is an excerpt from an SAP PRESS book, Practical Workflow for SAP, offering guidance for assessing which business processes can be monitored and automated with Workflow functionality:

Knowing the business drivers for the process will help you assess the critical success and failure criteria for the workflow; that is, how do you know when the workflow has achieved its business objective? Some key questions to ask include the following:

-Is this process currently performed within the company, or is it a new process?

-What does this process achieve for the company?

-What would be affected if this process did not happen?

-What is the financial impact if this process happens or does not happen?

-How often does this process happen?

-How many people are or will be involved in a single instance of this process?

-Are there service level agreements that the process must enforce?

-Is there a requirement to ensure appropriate segregation of duties?

-Is this a self-service process?

-Are there time constraints on the process?

-When was this process last review or re-engineered?

Sometimes the answers are obvious. Take a procurement request process involving procurement requests that are entered, approved, and actioned. Clearly, segregation of duties is an issue; you won’t want people approving their own purchases. If the procurement requests are entered over the web by the person who wants the good, then this is also a self-service process that may affect potentially anyone in the company who needs to buy something. The financial impact of not approving the procurement requests can range from revenue lost when goods critical to production are not purchased in time, to expenses for goods that shouldn’t have been bought.

When you feel you have a reasonable understanding of the business process, it is time for a reality check. That is, is the business process a good candidate for workflow?

-Good candidates for workflow usually involve numerous tasks that need to be performed, with given constraints, by numerous people. Often the reasons for implementing the process via workflow revolve around making sure all tasks are performed correctly, all constraints are met, and all relevant people are contacted as efficiently as possible. This is particularly true when communication barriers exist between people, such as when people are in different locations, different departments or different companies.

-If the process is not a good candidate for workflow, take a moment to consider whether there is a better way to accomplish this task. If you are looking at a process where very few people are involved and there is no particular urgency to the process, perhaps a batch job or a report is all that is needed. Spending time to build workflows having few benefits does no one a favor.

-Understanding the drivers of the process can help you find the factors to concentrate on during workflow design and implementation. For instance, if the process involves time constraints, focus on deadlines. If a process involves segregation of duties, focus on making sure only appropriate personnel can perform a task. If it is a self-service process, focus on making sure that the tasks performed by untutored users are as user-friendly and self-evident as possible.

-Lastly, if the process has not been reviewed or re-engineered for some time, workflow may be the catalyst for some business process re-engineering. You should confirm whether process re-engineering is required or desired. This will give you an idea of how much flexibility there may be in interpreting the business process for your workflow. If you know that business re-engineering is a part of your workflow project, there are a few extra questions you should raise:

-Is the process still relevant?

-Is the process effective?

-What improvements do you believe can be made to the process?

Co-author of Practical Workflow for SAP, Ginger Gatling, will be offering further guidance for choosing and adopting workflow at the IT 2011 event in two weeks.

In the mean time, for more information on Ginger’s session, and workflow in general, you can check go here.

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