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Enabling Workflow in IBM ICM

Foreword

Increasingly, technology has been utilized to drive improvements in process design in order to increase productivity and reduce turn-around time.  When documenting processes, it’s possible to identify intersections where technology can be applied.  For compensation processes on IBM ICM version 8 or later, functionality like editable data grids and workflow manager can be applied to achieve these improvements.  Employing this functionality can reduce work related to:

  • Data Creation
  • Notification
  • Transportation
  • Inspection/Transformation of data
  • Data loading

Editable grids and workflow manager can load data directly into IBM ICM, notify end users upon submission and execute scheduled transformations.  Integrating these features can improve productivity by reducing manual effort, allow visibility at every step of the process, reduce human error and reduce the overall turn-around time.

 

Workflow

Workflow has dual meaning. It describes both the steps to complete a work process and, in a software context, the automation of business rules in order to coordinate activities.

Process workflow is the progression of steps (tasks, events or interactions) that are executed to complete a process.  Each step in a process workflow is dependent upon the preceding step and leads to a specific step after it.  Process workflows can be a simple linear flow or be more complex and have either parallel processing or circular activities.

Software workflow applies to the automated execution of business rules to enable information or documents to be passed from one participant to another.  Automation can facilitate tasks between people and synchronize data with the ultimate goal of improving organization efficiency and responsiveness.  Generally, in order to understand how software workflow is applied, the process workflow must first be mapped. 

Mapping a hypothetical process workflow for the creation of sales objectives is illustrated below in figure 1.

 

From a high level, the process workflow consists of three main concepts:

  • The Manager creates the objectives,
  • The VP and Manager come to a consensus on the objectives and the VP approves them
  • The objectives are shared with the sales person

An in-depth breakdown of tasks to support the process workflow might look like the process workflow illustrated in figure 2.

  

  • The Manager creates the objectives then emails them to the VP for approval
  • The VP and Manager collaborate until all the objectives are approved
  • The VP emails the objectives to the Compensation team
  • The Compensation team inspects the objectives, transforms the data, then loads the data into IBM ICM
  • The Objectives are then visible to the sales person for their review

Opportunities for applying IBM ICM workflow solutions can be identified by examining the detailed process workflow, as illustrated in figure 3.

 

  • Editable data grids can capture the objectives in the system
  • Notification can be added to alert participants
  • Processing activities can be triggered to reduce manual effort

 After applying IBM ICM features to the objective creation process, the resulting process workflow might look like the example in figure 4:

 

The resulting process reduces manual effort, reduces the potential for human error, allows organization visibility into the process and improves turn-around time.

 

Enabling Approval with Editable Data Grids

The first step to driving productivity improvements is to enable end-user input in order to eliminate inspection, transformation and loading activities, and bring the approval process into IBM ICM.  The flexibility within the software allows for multiple solutions to enable the approval process.  One approach to support the data entry, approval and revision process is illustrated in figure 5.

 

The Staging Table includes critical fields required for the process, and fields to track approvals and comments.  It houses all objectives regardless of approval status.

The Presenter Report is the gateway for Managers to create objectives and review feedback. It also serves as the gateway for VPs to approve/reject and provide feedback.  Depending on security requirements, this could be two distinct reports with accessibility driven by web tab access or one report with security built into the data grids using the web user parameter

The Destination Table contains only the critical fields needed for calculation purposes.  It houses only approved objectives, thereby improving subsequent payment calculation logic  

A component can be set up with the staging table, presenter report and destination table, as illustrated in figure 6:

 

 

Start by setting up the staging table with all the critical fields required for calculations, the approval field and the comment field.  Then set up the presenter report with parameters and values to aid the manager with their data entry.  For the objectives, several sources will need to be created to enable the direct entry and subsequent editing of objectives.  A hypothetical example is illustrated in figure 7.

 

A row form source (SourceRowFormStaging) tied to the staging table allows the manager to create new objectives.  A second source may be required to allow the manager to view/modify the objective prior to approval (SourceStagingNullApproval).

A data source collects all unapproved objectives (SourceStagingNotApproved) from the staging table and presents them to the VP.  The VP can then approve or reject and add comments through editable fields in the data grid.

The final two sources complete the feedback loop for the manager, collecting approved (SourceStagingApproved) or rejected (SourceStagingRejected) objectives and any comments entered by the VP.

Next, build the layout of the report. An example is illustrated in figure 8.

 

Additional context, like title and instructions can be added to the report. The data grids are tied to the data sources and then arranged in a logical manner on the presenter report.  During the data grid set-up, fields are toggled to be editable and data validation can be added.  When editable fields are tied to a structural table, additional functionality can be incorporated to assist with data entry.  Lastly, when using editable data grids or a row form source, a “Submit” button must to be added to the report.

The completed presenter report might look something like the example illustrated in figure 9. 

 

The hypothetical example displayed above is basic.  To better manage data entry, the staging table should be tied to structural tables to allow entry of specific values, and security should be established to manage data entry.  These capabilities are generally model specific and are not illustrated in the above example.

To incorporate process automation for the purpose of moving approved objectives to the destination table, an import is created and added to the scheduler.  This is illustrated in figure 10. 

 

After the architecture is in place, the workflow manager can be configured.

 

Integrating Notification and Processing with Workflow Manager

The second step in driving productivity improvements is to automate notification and processing through the workflow manager. 

Creating a workflow starts by creating the swim lanes and assigning payees to the appropriate lane.  A swim lane is the depiction of a role or person responsible for that function.  A node is added to the appropriate swim lane in the workflow for each step in the process.

Three types of nodes can be added to a workflow:

  • Action,
  • Alert and
  • Process

A wizard guides the node type selection as illustrated in figure 11:

Action Node

  • Tied to the submit button on a presenter report

Alert Node

  • Sends a message to the payee in the swim lane
  • Can be a System message, an Email or Both, as illustrated in figure 12
  • Alerts can be configured, as illustrated in figure 13

 

 

Process Node

  • Tied to a process folder in the scheduler
  • Some or all of the processes in the folder can be executed

Referring back to the design in figure 5, two action nodes, two alert nodes and one process node would be needed to execute this workflow, as illustrated in figure 14.

The workflow works best with a sequential workflow that has a limited number of processing steps (5 or less) and a clear executable rules set.  For longer workflows, the process needs to be separated into smaller linear pieces.   Nodes can only be connected to one other node, making it difficult to build a circular or parallel workflow.  In addition, each Exception requires an additional workflow to be built.   While restrictive, some productivity improvement can be gained from partial automation.  Evaluate the process to determine the critical pieces and build those steps.  Also consider removing exceptions and reducing workflow complexity. 

 

Conclusion

Mapping a compensation process workflow can provide insight for which IBM ICM features can be applied to improve productivity.   Applying features like editable grids and workflow manager can provide an organization tangible benefits such as:

  • Improved timeliness to present objectives to payee
  • Improved productivity
  • Improved data quality
  • Enhanced visibility into the process

Incorporating editable data grids can remove a layer of processing, and creating workflows can improve turn-around time.  When implementing editable data grids, consider the security and end-user experience, as these requirements will have a direct impact on the design. When applying workflow, simple, linear and rules-based work best.  Consider combining both features into compensation processes to drive productivity improvements. 

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About Author:

This article is authored by a team of Sr. SPM Analysts at Spectrum Technologies LLC. For further information on this topic, please reach us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. , or visit us at www.spectrumbiztech.com