Workflows are a fairly common idea in business. Someone initiates a task, components of the task get passed on to the correct staff, and, when the task components are complete, the initiator gets a nice notification. The idea is that it closes up communication loops nicely, automatically documents communication, and takes the load off administrative types who would normally need to ensure that all the right people knew about the tasks to be completed.
The tasks, and the workflows they involve, are all defined by a group's business rules. or the way in which the participants normally go about getting work done. These rules are programmed into the software such that, for example, a memo can't be distributed to senior management unless it has been reviewed by the legal department.
While this has been going on for a while in the private sector, it's a fairly new idea in education. However, workflow technology is finding its way into student information systems and stands to save staff quite a bit of time, in addition to ensuring appropriate and consistent communication.
Our SIS, (X2's Aspen system), has one workflow built in out of the box, although any number of workflows can be defined by system administrators. This one workflow has already drastically reduced paper flow and saved time for teachers, administrators, and secretaries. It's the student conduct referral...My personal favorite. Whenever teachers caught students up to no good or had to send them out of class for discipline issues, the teachers needed to go to the office, get a referral form, fill it out, and give it to the assistant principal. He would then do his assistant-principal duties and assign some sort of punishment for the transgression. The punishment would be added to the referral form and given to a secretary, who would type up appropriate documentation and add discipline records to the old information system. Finally, the same secretary would change attendance records for students who were suspended as a result of the disciplinary actions.
The workflow, though, allows teachers to enter a conduct referral online. The assistant principal now received automatic notification on his homepage and can assign a disciplinary action immediately. The action generates a conduct record and, with a software update slated for next month, will actually update attendance records automatically as well. The role of the secretary in this scenario is largely eliminated and teachers get feedback from the assistant principal online as soon as he takes action on the referral.
The teachers love it, the secretary loves it, and the assistant principal loves it. The only folks not utterly enamored of the system are the kids; the paperwork used to be a real disincentive to refer students for behavior incidents, but thanks to modern student information systems, that barrier has been eliminated.