What is a Workflow Management System?

In today’s fast-paced business world, efficiency and productivity are key to staying competitive. One tool that has become increasingly popular for streamlining operations is a workflow management system (WMS). But what exactly is a WMS, and why should your company consider implementing one?

At its core, a workflow management system is a software application designed to automate and optimize business processes. It does this by creating a defined sequence of tasks, rules, and approvals that must be followed for a particular process or workflow. This could be anything from onboarding new employees to processing customer orders to managing IT help desk tickets.

The WMS acts as a central hub, providing visibility into every step of the process and ensuring work is routed to the right people at the right time. Tasks are automatically assigned based on predefined rules and employees are notified when action is required from them. Data, documents, and other information flow through the system along with the work, eliminating the need for manual handoffs and duplicated effort.

While workflow management concepts have been around for decades, modern WMS applications leverage the latest technologies like cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and mobile integration to drive even greater efficiencies. The result is a more streamlined, productive, and cost-effective way of executing your critical business processes.

Why Does Your Company Need a Workflow Management System?

There are numerous compelling reasons why implementing a workflow management system should be a priority for businesses of all sizes and across all industries:Workflow Management System

Increased Efficiency & Productivity

By automating and streamlining processes, a WMS eliminates tedious manual tasks and handoffs between employees. Work progresses faster with fewer delays and bottlenecks. Employees can focus on higher-value activities instead of getting bogged down in administrative overhead.

Improved Visibility & Control

A centralized system provides full transparency into the status of every process instance. Managers can easily see where work is getting held up, identify problem areas, and take corrective action. Powerful reporting and analytics capabilities enable data-driven optimization.

Higher Quality & Consistency 

With standardized processes and automated checks, errors and variations are minimized. Processes are executed the same way every time by best practices and compliance requirements.

Better Accountability

WMS applications track every step of a process, recording audit trails of who took what action and when. This ensures accountability and makes it easy to identify process breakdowns.

Cost Savings

By driving efficiencies and minimizing errors, a WMS can lead to significant cost reductions across the organization. Studies have shown productivity gains of 20-30% or more in some cases.

What are the Basic Components of Workflow?

While workflow management systems can vary in features and complexity, they typically include the following core components:

Process Designer/Modeler

A graphical tool that allows administrators to build, configure and modify process workflows by mapping out the sequence of steps, rules, conditions, and hand-offs.

Task Management

The ability to create task checklists or forms that guide users through the required actions for each process step. Tasks can be automatically assigned and prioritized based on predefined rules.

Document Management 

Capabilities for storing, routing, editing and approving documents and other data files associated with each process instance.

Notifications & Dashboards

Mechanisms for notifying users of pending tasks and keeping stakeholders informed on process status. Real-time dashboards provide consolidated views into work queues and workflow performance metrics.

Reporting & Analytics

Out-of-the-box and ad-hoc reporting tools give managers insight into process inefficiencies, bottlenecks and other areas for improvement. Advanced WMS may incorporate machine learning to identify optimization opportunities.  

Integration Capabilities

Modern workflow systems offer APIs and pre-built connectors to integrate with other enterprise applications like ERP, CRM, document management, and communications platforms.

What are the Benefits of a Workflow Management System?

Faster Process Cycle Times

By streamlining and automating processes across functional areas, a WMS can drastically reduce cycle times for workflows like product development, sales approvals, service delivery and more. Requests and issues get resolved more quickly.  

Higher Employee Productivity

Eliminating manual, repetitive tasks gives knowledge workers more time to focus on high-priority, strategic activities that drive value for the business. Work gets done more efficiently overall.

Improved Visibility & Control

With full transparency into the status and performance data for each process, managers can easily pinpoint bottlenecks, inefficiencies and areas for optimization. It is possible to recognize problems and find solutions before they worsen.

Consistent Execution & Compliance

By defining processes based on established policies and governance requirements, a WMS enforces standardized execution every time. There is less risk of errors, missed steps or non-compliance issues.

Reduced Costs 

Streamlining processes and minimizing errors leads to significant operational cost savings across the organization. A WMS can deliver a fast return on investment through productivity gains and overhead reduction.

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Choosing a Workflow Management System

With the many workflow management solutions on the market today, it can be challenging to determine which one is the best fit for your organization’s needs. Here are some key considerations:

Process Complexity

Evaluate how sophisticated your process requirements are. Simple approval workflows may be well-serve via basic workflow capabilitie. But for more complex, multi-step processes with lots of conditional logic and integration needs, you’ll want a more robust solution.

Ease of Use

The easier a WMS is to implement and use on a daily basis, the greater the adoption will be across your teams. Look for intuitive process modeling tools and user-friendly forms/interfaces.

Scalability & Performance  

As your business grows, your workflow system needs to be able to scale and perform under higher volumes. Pay attention to system architecture, integrations, and infrastructure requirements.

Security & Compliance

Depending on your industry, you may need to adhere to strict security protocols and compliance regulations around data privacy and auditing. Make sure the WMS meets those needs.

Pricing & Implementation

Upfront costs and ongoing fees can vary widely based on deployment model (cloud vs. on-prem), user-based pricing tiers, support/training requirements, etc. Map total costs over a multi-year period.

The Two Main Workflow Types Are..

While every organization’s processes are unique, they generally fall into one of two high-level workflow categories:

Sequential Workflows:

These are processes with a predefined series of steps that must execute in a strict sequence. Each step is dependent on the completion of the previous one. Common examples include:

  • Employee Onboarding 
  • Paid Time Off Requests
  • Purchase Order Approval
  • Code Deployments

State Machine Workflows: 

State machine workflows are more flexible and can account for alternate paths, conditional routing, loops, and parallel tracks. Their progression is determine through configurable rule and the data input along the way. Examples:  

  • Customer Service Cases
  • Marketing Campaign Execution  
  • Order Processing & Fulfillment
  • Application Development Lifecycle

Most workflow management systems will support the creation of both of these fundamental workflow types. The right approach depend on the unique requirement or complexity of each business process being automated.

From a Business Perspective, Workflows May Be Categorized As:

1. Priority Workflows 

These are the critical processes that form the operational backbone of the organization and directly impact financial performance, compliance, and other key success factors. Examples include: 

  • Finance: Order-to-Cash, Procure-to-Pay, Budget Approvals
  • HR: Hiring, Onboarding, Performance Reviews 
  • IT: Change Requests, Help Desk, Security Incident Response

2. Customer-facing Workflows

Processes that directly touch customers and can significantly influence their experience and satisfaction level. Effective management of these workflows is essential for retention and growth.


  • Case Resolution & Support 
  • Sales Engagement 
  • Contract Approvals
  • Marketing Campaign Execution 

3. Employee-centered Workflows  

Processes that employees regularly interact with related to training, time/expense reporting, facilities requests, etc. Streamlining these improves the overall employee experience.

4. Primary Workflows

These are the mission-critical workflows at the core of delivering the company’s products/services and value proposition. Subsidiary workflows exist primarily to support the primary ones.

For example, in a professional services firm:

Primary: Project Delivery, Consulting Engagements 

Subsidiary: Knowledge Management, Resource Management

The ability to identify and prioritize your organization’s most essential workflows is critical. This ensures your WMS implementation focuses first on the highest-impact processes.


In summary, a workflow management system is a powerful tool that can drive significant improvements in efficiency, visibility, quality and cost savings for any organization. By modeling and streamlining processes, a WMS eliminates manual handoffs, accelerates cycle times, provides control through reporting/analytics, and enforces consistent execution.

With the right workflow management system in place, businesses can gain a sustainable competitive advantage through optimized processes, empowered employees and improved bottom-line results.

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Workflow Management System

  • What is a Workflow Management System (WMS)?
    A WMS is a software application that models, automates, and optimizes business processes by defining a sequence of tasks, rules and handoffs that must be followed. It acts as a central hub managing the flow of work between employees/systems.
  • What are the benefits of using a Workflow Management System?
    Key benefits include increased efficiency and productivity, improved visibility and control over processes, higher quality/consistency, better accountability, and significant cost savings through optimization.
  • What features should I look for in a Workflow Management System?
    Important features include process modeling tools, task management, document routing, notifications/dashboards, reporting/analytics, integration capabilities, scalability, security and compliance.
  • How can a Workflow Management System be implemented in an organization?
    Successful WMS initiatives start by mapping out and prioritizing the most critical business processes to automate, based on impact and existing pain points. Implementations should be phased, with proper training, communication and governance.


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