Messaging and the end of workflows

Messaging and the end of workflows


The concept of workflows is well known in engineering, manufacturing and other domains of enterprise applications. Workflow mechanism is fundamental for many process management applications. As such, PLM always used workflow mechanism to manage processes such as lifecycle, new product introduction, engineering change and others. You can see workflow mechanism as a one of the fundamental technological pieces of every PLM technology and product today.

How to define a workflow? This question is usually very complicated and raises many questions and debates. This is where rubber hits the road in many PLM implementations. It brings debates about organizational processes, changes in many other related discussions.

Although, workflow mechanism is pretty much standard, you can meet variety of user interfaces allowing you to define workflow as a diagram (probably mostly common) as well as using other ways – written rules, message forms, etc. In my old blog PLM process: Flowchart vs. Rule-based I’m discussing what is the most convenient way to define process. Even this specific blog post is 5 years old, not much changed and you can see similar workflow definitions in PLM products – Autodesk PLM360, Aras, Dassault Enovia, Siemens’ Teamcenter, PTC Windchill and others.

The value of workflows and process management seems obvious. In many business situations, workflow mechanism is invaluable. But, here is a problem I can see in many manufacturing companies. Organizations are changing, becoming more transparent, agile and flat. In many situations, I can see how people are struggling with the complexity and rigidity of workflows. It makes user experience complex and changes expensive.

My attention was was caused by Intercom blog – Messaging is just getting started. The article speaks about growing trend in the way we communicate using short messaging. We know it originally as text messaging, but it is going much beyond the text. It turns in a very convenient way to communicate. It is actually not messages, but conversation. And it is becoming rich by adding additional contextual information – pictures, videos, maps, geographical locations, etc.

Language, drawing, writing, printing, television and nearly every other communication technology; they all emerged or were collectively invented to solve the problem of the previous method of communication not being fast enough, or robust enough, or of sufficient fidelity.

Just a couple of years ago we were sending clipped, plain text SMS messages back and forth. But today it’s common for a chat to consist of text, emojis, stickers, photos, videos, and audio recordings. Our digital conversations have almost imperceptibly morphed into a rich, evocative form of communication.

However, my favorite piece of the article is related to the definition of messages as an independent layer that is fluid enough to sustain between people, applications and devices. This is where it gets very interesting, since this is essentially kills the siloes existing in organization today. It is also the most efficient mechanism to communicate in flat and agile organization.

The interplay between new apps, their evolving features, and the content they contain: these are the overlapping layers that move freely enough to allow for rapid innovation. SMS wasn’t able to evolve quickly enough to suit the complex and changing needs of users, because it was too far down the stack, tied to a slow-moving layer. Native notifications are likewise part of the OS, also a relatively slow-moving layer.

On the other hand, messages in apps are part of the software features layer, a fluid substrate that can move and adapt much more quickly. Just as messaging apps were able to adopt the carrier’s own cellular infrastructure to deliver a better solution than native messaging, they may be able to co-opt the operating system’s notification system to deliver better real time functionality.

What is my conclusion? PLM applications must kill workflows as a way to manage communication between people. It might exist for some reasons and specific structured processes. But, I can see majority of communication will be converted into asynchronous, agile and nimble process supported by messaging layer with rich content. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Picture credit Intercom blog


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