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Workflow is a term used to describe the tasks, procedural steps, organizations or people involved, required input and output information, and tools needed for each step in a business process. A workflow approach to analyzing and managing a business process can be combined with an object-oriented programming approach, which tends to focus on documents and data. In general, workflow management focuses on processes rather than documents. A number of companies make workflow automation products that allow a company to create a workflow model and components such as online forms and then to use this product as a way to manage and enforce the consistent handling of work. For example, an insurance company could use a workflow automation application to ensure that a claim was handled consistently from initial call to final settlement. The workflow application would ensure that each person handling the claim used the correct online form and successfully completed their step before allowing the process to proceed to the next person and procedural step.
A workflow engine is the component in a workflow automation program that knows all the procedures, steps in a procedure, and rules for each step. The workflow engine determines whether the process is ready to move to the next step. Some vendors sell workflow automation products for particular industries such as insurance and banking or for commonly-used processes such as handling computer service calls. Proponents of the workflow approach believe that task analysis and workflow modeling in themselves are likely to improve business operations.
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