The consulting group created a database of all the items that were part of the raw materials inventory and, to the extent possible, cross-referenced them to the vendor control number for the corresponding goods. They placed hand-held Wi-Fi-enabled scanners into service and created three different types of barcodes to aid warehouse workers. The first series of barcodes was stored in a notebook kept near the dock where product was received. When items arrived, the receiving employee would find them in the barcode book and use the scanner (on the barcode in the book) to record the receipt of goods. Then, using the keypad on the device the quantity received would be entered. The inventory control system would then generate a new barcode, specifically associated with a particular receipt and print a label that could be affixed to the received product. Finally, as items were placed into bins or onto shelves in the warehouse, a third barcode found at the actual warehouse location was scanned to associate the goods with a specific place in the building. The addition of this workflow process, which included the use of computing hardware alongside a software component, saved time and added much greater accuracy to the raw goods inventory, making the overall organization much more profitable.
Components of an Electronic Workflow Process
Some of the key components generally found in an effective electronic workflow system include routing capabilities, authorization, monitoring and alerts. In many cases, organizations that utilize technology to control the flow of processes do so in an effort to properly route information. Companies that use a purchasing system, for example, want requisitions for goods to go through an authorization process. These requests can be automatically routed to different individuals with varying levels of authority depending on their dollar value.
Authorization control can also be an extremely important aspect of a strong workflow scheme. Good systems can make it difficult to circumvent internal controls relating to the proper approval of transactions. Additionally, companies can configure their systems so that the information flow is affected not only by the nature and value of transactions but also by their approval or denial.
Often, the most overlooked benefit of electronic workflow is found in the audit trail maintained for transactions affected by an organization. Many systems monitor the records created as part of this trail to check for anomalies in the data. An example of this might be a salesperson that generates an invoice for a customer who gets distracted during the workday and inadvertently creates the same sales document twice. Software controls can be established that check for invoices containing identical information created for the same customer within a particular timeframe. Many of these “software checks” can be achieved using database procedures that run periodically and scan for values in the information. These are fairly simple to create and can help establish tremendously beneficial controls.
Finally, alerts associated with issues found as part of the monitoring process are paramount to most successfully implemented workflow systems. Many organizations find it nothing short of amazing that a communication thread is started without direct user action. Systems use email, instant messaging, pop-up messages and even audio prompts to alert the proper individual to the possibility that an issue has arisen.
Companies and individuals are using workflow tools every day and have become accustomed to their presence. One such example is found in Microsoft Outlook: The use of email to schedule meetings along with subsequent rescheduling efforts as participants accept or deny the request for interaction is a regularly used electronic workflow tool that has become common enough to be taken for granted. Other applications often used by accountants also have workflow functionality built in. Click here for a list of Workflow Solutions and Providers.
Accounting software ranging in price from a few hundred dollars up to hundreds of thousands of dollars have built-in workflow capabilities. Products that don’t have the required tools may be improved via an association with third-party add-on software. Tools to capture payroll data, aid with purchasing processes, improve customer relationships, control inventory and even automate standard general journal entries are all available in or for a variety of applications.
Tax software products can import data from outside sources such as financial institutions or business management applications and route the information in order to reduce tax preparation time. Workflow processes can continue as practitioners work on tax documents. They are routed to various forms and sections of a return based on information entered. When a preparer completes a tax return, workflow tools move documents to an appropriate location in an electronic filing system, again saving time and effort.
Electronic workflow tools are firmly set in the business landscape for professional organizations, service entities and manufacturing concerns. Companies that employ these tools properly are realizing significant benefits in a myriad of ways. If an organization needs greater automation in a technology-supported process, there is a very good chance that an electronic workflow application exists or can be created to help!