There are a lot of software vendors out there that can help you with workflow. However, there are some key questions you should be prepared to ask before making a shortlist of vendors. We offer five questions you might want to lead with.
What are the integration options?
Some workflow solutions will integrate exclusively with enterprise applications like Microsoft SharePoint or specific HRIS systems, which is good if you plan on sticking with those systems forever. Others will integrate with a handful of ERP or CRM systems but not others. Still others will provide an open system with standalone Web services that allow integration with almost any system with a database.
Integration examples could include launching processes from external systems, viewing the status of a process externally, creating new users, pushing data to an external reporting tool and more. Decide what’s best for your organization and find a solution that integrates with what you have and what you may have in the future.
How long will it take to implement?
Most software (SaaS or otherwise) purchasers expect to see a return on their investment fairly quickly. The folks that approved the purchase likely even more quickly. A rapid implementation isn’t always possible depending on the complexity of the solution, the number of people to train, the integrations that need to be set up, etc. but vendors should be able to provide a good estimate for when the solution will be rolled out publicly (or at least to a beta group). While every situation is unique to a degree, established vendors have seen pretty much everything and will have a frame of reference to draw from.
Keep in mind that sometimes the biggest torpedo in the side of an implementation project will come from internal sources. That’s why you’ll want to keep communications as open as possible with stakeholders and let them know the timeframe and what you expect of them.
Am I on My Own?
The level of human, hands-on support you’ll receive from a workflow management vendor will vary greatly. Some will dig in with you, map out your processes, build workflow sets, test, etc. Some, especially if their focus is on the forms part of the equation, will basically give you access to the system and then start pointing you to documentation. The level of support you’ll need will depend on a few different factors.
- Do you have a robust in-house IT/development team? Are they available to help?
- Have you or your business analysts already built out process maps?
- How quickly do you want to be up and running?
In any case it’s probably better to be safe than sorry and find a vendor who can be as hands on or hands off as your situation dictates and has a clear method for billing additional services.
What Platforms Do You Support?
Cloud-based software has distinct advantages over premise-based software but it’s not always A) your call and B) allowed by your industry. Some industries require software solutions to be completely under their control and within their firewalls (think financial, government, legal). In addition, some organizations need to integrate with on-premise systems (for instance Active Directory) that will only connect to other premise-based systems. These situations dictate a premise-based solution.
Outside of these scenarios, the cloud option offers a lot of benefits in terms of administration, cost, implementation time, etc. Another option is private cloud, which offers some benefits of the first two platforms but also some of the downsides. We’ll cover the benefits and downsides of all the platforms in a future post. In the meantime, consider vendors who offer all the options, but if you’ve already discussed solutions with IT (or you are IT) you probably have a good idea which one you’ll need.
You Say It’s Flexible. HOW Flexible?
Some workflow management companies provide pre-built workflows as part of a “service catalog.” While these solutions sound logical on the surface, the reality is that pre-built workflows are usually more trouble than they’re worth. Most organizations have very specific, custom ways of handling requests and pre-built workflows invariably need to be customized to fit those methods. Often it’s faster to simply build from scratch than to modify automated workflows that have been designed for wide adoption.
Hopefully that helps you in your workflow management vendor search. If you have other suggestions for what to ask or just want to let us know what you think, please let us know in the comments.