The primary purpose of workflow applications is to increase performance of existing processes. In general these processes are linked to day to day operations of a company.
Increasing performance sometimes is not that easy and more if those processes are running for years and people in your company are used to do things like that. Consulting services companies provide business process advisory for decreasing the cost and time of actual processes by doing reengineering and things alike that can cause more problems than solutions.
A workflow application reduces costs and time just by modeling the process and managing all tasks assignments electronically.
For example, thinking about the process of approving an expense application, the whole process begins when someone in the company stayed until late last night and decided to order pizzas on behalves of the company. The person keeps the receipt hoping tomorrow to fill an expense report and get his 12 bucks reimbursed.
The process of approving an expense form is fairly simple, you just fill out the form and hand it over to your manager or assistant for approval and send it to the accounts payable department. While the form travels his way to the later department, it may need to go to various levels of approvals, depending on the amount that needs to be reimbursed. This can last a couple of days if the levels of approvals are high. Even more days if the expense form comes from a branch in town and has to travel to the headquarters.
But, if we make a twist and have an electronic expense form, located in the company intranet or some central site where employees can enter and fill out the form electronically and submitted to a workflow application that takes charge of delivering this form to every person whose approval is needed, handling the response of each person and managing the policies that applies to the expense form, then we are talking about some time and cost improvement without having to reengineer anything.
The process of approvals and task assigning can be done inside the workflow application by configuring it to take into account the total amount of the expense. This can be done integrating forms into the workflow application.
We can reduce this process of approval from days to maybe just one day or even hours for our hard working employee that order a pizza last night. You can increase performance of processes and reduce costs by just automating the task and policies in the application. We can even go further along if we want to integrate the form with third party applications like the financial system of the company, also reducing the work load of our folks at the accounts payable department.
When you compare the investment made in other software applications, the return of workflow and automating business process is higher and, by far, easier to implement.