Two weeks ago I attended the Realcomm IBCON Real Estate Technology Show that was held in Scottsdale and it was very well done given the Covid restrictions. There were many vendors with fantastic solutions for everything from monitoring building systems to managing the due diligence process. Based on my observations, all of the vendor offerings had a dashboard and very nice reports to help users digest the wealth of information these solutions gather and provide.
This week I had a good conversation with a colleague about a potential need for workflow. As I listened to the concept it occurred to me that part of what was needed was reporting, maybe even a dashboard. However, part of the need would definitely also benefit greatly from workflow. So what’s the difference between reporting and workflow and what scenario would lead to a preference for one over the other?
Let’s start with reports. Reports provide information. That information can be stats, charts, commentary and conclusions. A report might just be information displayed as graphs and charts in real time. But it’s just information and the consumer of the information may or may not be under any obligation to take action on the information. Reports are not pro-active no matter how up to date the information is. A report on how profitable the company was last month is very important, but not likely to trigger a need for action that must take place within x number of days.
Workflow on the other hand is a pro-active solution. A task is done which triggers a notice that the next task needs to be started. The contract was signed so now it’s time to enter the data into the accounting system. There shouldn’t be ambiguity if the logic is correctly configured. If A happens then B. If B is greater than $xx then C, but if less than $xx then D. The decision making can be structured to ensure that the entire process is logically and systematically completed. That’s the goal.
The difference between the two tools is evidenced by the need for a definitive next step. Reports are most useful when the next step is highly variable, the information is subject to interpretation and in many cases the information is only one component of a decision process. The decision may or may not need to be acted upon. Workflow on the other hand is all about getting to the next step and eventually to completion via one or many logical steps. Actions are triggered, steps taken and tasks completed. A very definitive process.
You could say that reports are a sibling of workflow. Reports can be the start of a workflow. A report that says 10 contracts are expiring in 90 days can be used to kick off 10 contract renewal workflows. Reports can be support for a workflow event. For instance, a report showing that all vulnerabilities have been removed can be support for monthly security compliance workflow. Workflow also needs reports to be truly effective. A report of all workflows in process, stalled or completed is very useful.
Define your need and if it is informational, then use a report. If the need is task completion, then use workflow. If information is being gathered explicitly to complete tasks, then you need workflow that incorporates the report. Gather, review, take action, complete. Then sit back and read the report that shows how efficient you are.
Michael Cipriano is President and Co-Founder of Millennia Group, which provides workflow and document management solutions for companies that need a system of record for superior risk management and compliance. Contact us for more information.