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Edge Cases Don’t Fit Your Workflow? Customize with a Business Rules Engine.

December 21, 2020

Workflows are great for standardizing business processes and documenting enterprise knowledge. Automating workflows can streamline operations and help you respond to your customers quicker than your competitor. But, what happens when existing workflows processes don’t work when new and unusual situations come up?

While many interactions may be similar and the established workflows work well, not all situations are the same. As a rule of thumb, 80% of situations or requests might be addressable via a defined workflow process. Because these situations are common we can build workflow process automation that is not overly complex to address them because the number of variables is limited. The challenge is addressing the 20% of situations that do not fit into these workflows. It is these edge cases that help differentiate market leaders.

In some cases, organizations may just expand traditional workflow processes to accommodate these situations, or they might just address them manually as a unique case. The former option can lead to workflows that become excessively complex and the latter introduces inefficiencies and increases the probability that enterprise data and knowledge will be lost.

A third option is a business rules-based approach. This is a strategy that manages complexity while leveraging the efficiency created by automated workflows. In a traditional workflow model, each potential path is documented in the workflow. This makes it less flexible and less capable of adjusting to new cases. A rules-based approach is much more effective because it enables a user to customize the workflow to fit the current situation.

When context-aware rules are embedded in a traditional workflow process, they can customize what actions and paths are most appropriate based on the current situation and present them to a user. The user can then choose the most appropriate path based on existing circumstances. By building a workflow around real-time data and constraining possible next steps instead of dictating a certain path, every single possible option does not need to be documented in the workflow process. With this approach, users can have a role in managing complexity. For example, in a visit to your doctor, the physician has some basic protocols they follow but potential actions the doctor can take or orders they can write are almost infinite. Building a rigid workflow process that incorporates all the possible actions is extremely complex and burdensome. If the workflow was able to dynamically change as new information is gathered this rat’s nest of processes could be simplified.

What is the secret sauce that enables this type of workflow? It is really about the data model and the sophistication of entities within the system. When entities, or the object that stores data in the system, can support complex data types, they can track what steps have been completed and store all the possible actions. With this information, entities can leverage real-time input and rules to narrow down the potential next steps. By providing these constraints, the user has the flexibility to make decisions but still gets the support of a workflow process automation.

The entity in a rules-based workflow is also sophisticated enough to interact with third-party systems. In a traditional workflow, third parties can provide data to workflows and wake it up but it can not influence the steps included in the flow. With a sophisticated entity in the rules-based workflow, third parties can interact with it and add and remove data that influences the flow.

With a strategy that allows organizations to automate unconventional processes, edge cases can be addressed much more efficiently. Consider the customer service rep that can quickly and easily handle your bizarre request compared to the rep that is less enthusiastic because he does not know the right process and has to get back to you. When leaders execute well on edge cases that pleasantly surprises the customer, they tend to tell others about the experience. These testimonials tend to differentiate leaders from the pack.

If you would like to see rules-based workflow process automation in action, contact us to see a demo.

Becky Simanowski
Becky Simanowski is the Digital Marketing Director at Decisions and manages all digital marketing programs including SEO, SEM, Email, Social Media, and Conversion Rate Optimization.

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