Bill calls. "How are you?" says Graham the sales manager.

I'm fine, the weather's good, well it's bound to be better than yours, right?, jokes Bill.

Come on Bill, you know it's non-stop sunshine here, says Graham, but it's a Monday afternoon in February Bill, let's get to the point, you're in California and I'm in Torquay. Now what have you got for me?

We have an order for 58 Presenters model 38s, standard damping, 0-100% scaling, 0 to 100mV, the same as the last order." I don't have a Purchase Order from the customer in my hand, but I'll pass it through by Thursday and I need delivery within 4 weeks.", says Bill, getting down to business.

"No problem, I'll put the paperwork through, but as you know I'll need a fax before production commits", says Graham. "Yes, yes ... ", says Bill hanging up to demonstrate his confidence.

Graham retrieves the file from the cabinet behind his desk. The previous orders are filed by customer and date. The specification is attached to the last order. Graham fills out a works order form. He adds the reference number for the specification from the previous order. He adds the distributor's details to the form header. He places the white paper document in the order tray in the sales office.

Sally picks up the bundle of 'white' orders from the tray. She places each one on the copier, presses start and out pops a 'green' and a 'pink' for each order. She drops the whites down to accounts; the pinks go into the vacuum tube routed through to production control. The Green heads down to dispatch.

Production control schedule the work, but have a call from Graham to wait for confirmation before committing materials. When the goods are ready they're sent to dispatch who match the production papers with the Green, fill out the dispatch notes and send a copy to accounts who send out the invoice.

So what's going on here? In a bygone era, business processes operated with physical documents, often colour coded and passed between business units. These 'tokens' controlled activities and provided the authority to proceed. The various documents moved from one business unit to the next, triggered work, detailed the work completed or to be completed and were eventually filed for the record. And this is a Workflow.

Certus Technology provides modern business systems where records of business activities can be recorded or specified. We can design and provide workflows within a computing environment to achieve the same operations as described.

In a workflow system, tasks can be passed between users or business functions. These appear in a user's task list, no different from an in-tray. Information can be collected from forms moved in and out of systems, processed and pushed back into forms. Workflow can join up independent systems and orchestrate users' interactions with systems. They can allow process efficiency and timeliness to be measured. They are flexible, reliable and measurable. Just like in the old days.