E-process: Putting workflow on the Web
- By Patrick Marshall
- Mar 05, 2000
The World Wide Web has changed the way many departments and agencies work,
providing off-site staff members and contractors easy access to the home
Behind the scenes, Web applications have changed the way some managers
structure workflow. Older workflow programs relied on local-area networks
and e-mail to distribute and track workflow. In contrast, new "e-process"
applications take advantage of the Web to offer an interactive, centralized
work space for distributing, sharing and monitoring tasks from job applications
to budget requests, from coordinating the construction of a space shuttle
to managing road repairs.
If you're shopping for a solution to put order and accountability into
your department's work processes, there are a variety of off-the-shelf packages
to choose from. These applications have several features in common:
* Graphic design tools for constructing the steps of a project, including
approvals and notifications.
* A means of delivering tasks to individuals.
* Administrative tools to let managers check on the status of work.
Beyond those similarities, however, the differences among the e-process
solutions are marked. Some are more effective for managing document sharing,
for example, while others are more effective at working with forms, such
as expense reports. Some offer greater accountability for project managers,
and others deliver stronger collaboration tools for end users. And, not
surprisingly, prices vary greatly.
Deciding which e-process solution is best suited for your department
can be tricky. Consider what type of workflow processes you want to manage.
It's useful to distinguish between two basic types of workflow: forms-based
Forms-based workflow is most common in two types of situations: internal
administrative processes and outreach processes. Internal administrative
processes include processing budget requests or expense reports. Outreach
processes include processing requests from clients or Web site visitors.
If forms-based workflow is your main interest, you'll want to look at forms-oriented
solutions, such as JetForm Corp.'s InTempo (see related story).
Collaboration workflow generally is centered on documents or other data
files. A typical scenario would be a the processes needed when a department
produces a report. Pieces of the report are worked on by staff members and
reassembled. Then the report goes through an approval process. This kind
of workflow calls for features such as multiuser access and document versioning that you won't find in a forms-oriented workflow program. The strongest
programs for this type of workflow are those that have arisen from or
integrate with document management programs, such as FileNet Corp.'s Visual
Once you've narrowed in on the kind of workflow you want to manage, you'll
need to consider matters such as platform requirements, scalability, database
compatibility, development language and integration with third-party applications.
The FCW Test Center will look at a series of products that cover all
the bases. Our first review is of JetForm's InTempo, a forms-oriented solution
that runs on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows and offers e-mail and Web access
In the coming weeks, we'll be testing other solutions. When the series
is done, we'll post a comparative chart on the FCW Test Center's Web site
to make it easier for you to choose the most appropriate solution for your