When shopping around for workflow software, it’s important to be aware of the vast range of products on the market. Especially if it’s your first time researching a workflow solution for your company, you should have a concept of what features are absolute must-haves, and which features may be just nice-to-have. This may be crucial, since costs between solutions can wildly vary, and when creating a budget, you need to know what items your organization can’t live without.
Nearly all of the hundreds of workflow software products on the market possess at least the following key features:
- The ability to design a step-by-step workflow on a visual flowchart canvas;
- Ability to assign tasks;
- If-Else operations;
- The ability to run workflows in an end user interface.
As far as core features, that’s pretty much it, but if that’s all that’s being offered, then the product is very basic – maybe too basic. Your company will also probably need the following features as well:
- A form design interface;
- All Gateway flow operators (If-Else, Split, Join, Switch);
- Ability to assign tasks to users according to organizational group;
- Some method of integrating the workflow into a web-based application;
- Basic monitoring and administration capabilities.
For small businesses with straightforward workflows, the above may already be enough, and there are plenty of products which provide these capabilities.
Mid-Range Workflow Software
Mid-range products include a richer set of features, which answer the needs of somewhat more advanced companies and implementations. They include:
- Out-of-the-box integration with popular enterprise products (e.g. SharePoint, Dynamics, Salesforce, SAP);
- A Business Rule Engine;
- Integrated Monitoring Dashboards;
- Basic Error Handling;
- Basic queue management;
- Some server side integration (e.g. Database listener).
This level is appropriate for organizations with some level of process management maturity, but whose needs are still fairly minimal and straightforward.
Here is an example of workflow software with both core and some advanced features.
BPM Software (a term introduced by Gartner in the late 90s) represents a higher level of workflow software, used by mid to large-sized organizations with complex workflow needs. Of the hundreds of products on the market, only perhaps two dozen qualify as BPM software according to this definition. A BPM (Business Process Management) Software suite will additionally include the following features:
- Out-of-the-box integration with a variety of services including Web Services, WCF, External Services;
- Advanced Business Rule management, queue management, task assignment and error handling;
- Aggregated analytics;
- Customizable monitoring and reports;
- Superior management of process versions and superior administration in general;
- Source control and collaborative design of workflows with a team of developers;
- A customizable end user interface.
Here is an example of BPM software.
This represents the highest level of BPM Software on the market. The term was coined by Gartner in 2011. In 2012, Gartner introduced its
- Intelligent Analytics which are integrated into the process for the purpose of optimizing it;
- Mobile, Social, and Cloud BPM capabilities;
- Swimlanes, comments and containers on the workflow canvas;
- Rich process modeling and export capabilities;
- Flexible architecture which enables rapid change of processes and platforms;
- Advanced version control and management;
- Advanced Error Handling and compensation;
- Business User and Advanced User capabilities;
- Predictive BPM and Business Process Discovery;
- Case Management capabilities.
Here is an example of an iBPMS software suite.
Which Level is for Right Me?
Now that we have outlined the various levels of functionality, the question becomes: what type of workflow software is appropriate for my organization?
The answer depends on two major factors: requirements and budget.
For straightforward, simple implementations with a narrow budget, a basic or mid-range Workflow Software may be the best option.
For mid-large sized companies with complex requirements, a BPM Software is usually required. Then, the questions becomes – which type of BPM Software – standard or iBPMS?
More and more leading organizations today are opting for iBPMS, as only this type of solution provides the flexibility needed to compete in today’s market. An iBPMS can usually justify the investment better than a standard BPM software, with higher ROI and greater organizational adoption.
In all cases, it’s crucial to investigate the track record of the vendor, as the vendor’s methodology, team, and it’s success with clients in your industry is often just as important as the features of its software.