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Workflow: Don't be fooled by it.

How long does it currently take for your staff to process a request for an inside move of a telephone? One day? A week? How about responding to a service call? Are you able to resolve the problem within two hours? Suppose you were able to speed up your ability to complete specific tasks, boosting productivity and efficiency. Would you be willing to invest money to make your organization more efficient?

Lots of people today are investing in workflow products and services. Workflow is an "automated efficiency expert." Check out a famous movie with Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn called "The Desk Set." Tracy appears on the scene as an efficiency expert. Hepburn's corporate library staff is a whiz at finding information. However, it is Tracy's task to justify installation of a massive computer by proving it is faster and more efficient than a human. In the end, the humans win. But this was the early 1950s ... computers still had a long way to go.

Workflow is 1995's version of the efficiency expert. Just what do efficiency experts do? They examine all the steps a business takes to complete a certain task.

Efficiency improvements can save a company money, if the reductions come in a form that has a direct link to the bottom line. In the 1990s this typically means layoffs and other forms of staff reductions. Not a popular situation.

Efficiency improvements often come at considerable expense. This includes the cost of the efficiency expert and the technology. What has the company really gained?

Workflow is another "stupid term"--a familiar side activity of this column. Seems we've been dealing with something called business process re-engineering over the past five years. That is virtually the same as "workflow." Both are from the same town, only from different sides of the railroad track. Workflow, no matter how glamorous or sexy it appears at the moment, is only the old efficiency expert using a Pentium with slick graphics.

Now that we've debunked workflow, how does it apply to the telecomm industry? Those of you who grew up in the old Bell System recall that just about everything was defined by a Bell System Practice, or BSP. If you automate BSPs, you create the equivalent of workflow.

BSPs were carefully designed to perform tasks in the minimum number of steps. This was important because just about every activity and service in the Bell System was measured according to various performance standards. If BSPs were followed to the letter, work could be completed in the fastest way possible. The same was true for technical activities, from installing a 42A block to wiring up a step-by-step switch.

So what's all this talk about workflow? The telecomm industry invented it nearly a hundred years ago!

A growing cadre of software products are available to automate various aspects of the workflow analysis process. There is even a robust and rapidly growing industry surrounding workflow. Major players like IBM and Lotus are figuring out profit from workflow. Smaller companies like Action Technologies, Alameda, Calif.; FileNet, Costa Mesa, Calif.; Recognition International, Sunnyvale, Calif.; and Jetform, Falls Church, Va., offer workflow products ranging in price from about $200 to $3,000 per user.

Workflow certainly applies to telecomm management. Our contention, however, is that telecomm professionals are already experts at workflow. Anybody who has ever managed the installation and cutover of a medium to large PBX knows about workflow.
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Copyright 1995 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Industry Trend or Event; Communications Management
Author:Kirvan, Paul
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1995
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