In today’s world of instant access and gratification it is unusual that businesses have been slow to adopt new technologies that enable faster, more immediate access to information. As use of iPads and other tablets become more ubiquitous in the workplace, the reality is that workflow is becoming, and will be, real time. Workflow management systems are becoming essential in tracking, auditing and automating projects. Using this software reduces errors/reworks and saves money in the long run.

Defining A Real Time Workflow Management System

Information about a process or workflow can be garnered from many different sources, in many different ways: from regular reports to audits, data mining, sensors and meetings. All these mechanisms, however, allow for a significant time period between the point of data collection to the time of review. Real time workflow means reducing the time from collection to review to hours, maybe even minutes. (The eventual goal is response in seconds, but first we must crawl.) Adding video, audio, and pictures to the information content enhances/speeds up collaboration and engineering workflow completion. With existing software and devices this is not only possible, but is the new reality.

Why is This Important?

Through technology, the velocity of business has significantly increased. This means making decisions — correct decisions — faster is a necessity to compete. Previously, getting the information needed to make these decisions often took days, and if individuals were dispersed, getting them together to review and respond took even more days. With the ability to gain information in real time, as well as the ability to communicate and collaborate from multiple locations in real time, organizations can now up their game to support the new business velocity. The added benefit is we now can get input from a wider set of participants, many of whom previously were not involved, to improve the decisions and ultimately the outcomes, in many different organizational areas, including production, QA, compliance, distribution, customer support, sales, etc.

Potential Obstacles

A Workflow management system is the lifeblood of most manufacturing and engineering companies. So organizations have spent a lot of time creating manual and semi-automated mechanisms to keep abreast. In addition, legacy systems have been built to further support and report on these processes. Getting today’s technology, where speed of information retrieval is much faster, to not “bump up” against these systems and culture is often a significant task. Workflow management system speed is only as fast as the slowest element in the chain, whether its information input, output, or analysis. This also suggests companies must provide training to help individuals better respond to the information they get, as the days of committee reviews and stalling for additional information gathering are on the way out.

Where Are We Going?

Though responding to online sensors in seconds sounds cool, most engineering workflows need to be managed on a daily or hourly basis. Technology now allows individuals to update their work in real time, for others to communicate internally and externally in real time, for managers to review and make changes in real time, and for errors to be caught and corrected in real time. This capability requires the organization to both train and set expectations with employees about quickly entering, reviewing, and responding to workflow outcomes. Learning how to best collaborate in the new reality is important to facilitate the right decision-making, where short online meetings replace large conference room meetings and daily dashboard analyses replace periodic computer reports.