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A workflow engine is a computer version of a process chart. As one would draw out a chart to illustrate the steps that must be taken to complete a work task or activity, a workflow engine is a computer’s way of following the steps of a work process. Businesses tend to use workflow engines to automate work processes.
For example, if a business sells a certain product, an individual in the company would map out the steps of the sales process, and the process might start when the customer receives a direct mail piece from the company. The next process would be that the recipient calls to get more information. Then a sales representative would call the customer back or speak to the customer at the time of the call. The next step is for the customer to place an order or go to the company's website to place an order, and the final piece of the process might be when the company sends a coupon to the customer for a discount on his or her next purchase. This information would be input into the workflow engine in order to automate assigning tasks to the different employees of the company or to alert one employee of the next steps that must be taken.
These employees do not use the workflow engine, rather they use a software that is compatible with the workflow engine. A computer programmer and process designer would be involved in creating the workflow engine. As a computer programmer works to develop a workflow engine, the focus is on how the steps in the process occur. The process designer involved in creating the workflow engine is concerned with the next step or what happens as a result of the previous step.
Typically, the process designer is someone who works in the business, such as the head of development or a business analyst. The primary purpose of a workflow engine is to automate processes and speed up the process. For example, in a situation where it is a sales process, the ultimate goal in using a workflow engine is to speed up the process from the time when a prospect becomes aware of a product or service to the time that a purchase is made.