Workflows are hard… and not only for PLM vendors

Workflows are hard… and not only for PLM vendors


Workflows is a very essential part of PLM system and overall product lifecycle management paradigm. PLM vendors are using workflow mechanism to model business processes in organization for product development, engineering to manufacturing, change management and many other user cases.

Even workflow seems to be an intuitive and well understood mechanism and paradigm, it is often hard to capture, implement and maintain. I shared some of my ideas about why PLM Workflows are hard. I think, Workflow is one of the mechanisms PLM systems should revisit in the future – The end of workflows as we know. Because of complication of workflows, I can a potential situation in which companies will start abandoning a traditional workflow approach.

Workflows are tough. The development speed of workflow-driven applications is questionable and, with no surprise, CIOs are looking for a better way to deal with process improvement. Process-based app can  be an interesting trend to discover for PLM vendors. Some of readers can come and say that existing PLM suites are process-based apps. Fair enough. From marketing standpoint- you are right. But look under the hood and you will see old routing of processes and workflows on top of product data. This is something that is going to change sooner than later.

These days, workflows applications are going much beyond the point of organizing tasks and processes between people. The borders between people and variety of applications are blurring and to manage it getting harder. So, workflows are not only tools for Business Process Management and PLM applications.

My attention was caught by Techcrunch article Apple has acquired Workflow, a powerful automation tool for iPad and iPhone. Here are some details to give you an idea what is about.

“The Workflow app was selected for an Apple Design Award in 2015 because of its outstanding use of iOS accessibility features, in particular an outstanding implementation for VoiceOver with clearly labeled items, thoughtful hints, and drag/drop announcements, making the app usable and quickly accessible to those who are blind or low-vision.”

The accessibility features of Workflow are super impressive, especially for an app that is a tool for building complicated macros. It would have been much easier to say hey, this is for heavy users maybe we don’t need to make sure it’s 100% accessible — but they didn’t, and they won a bunch of awards (and an exit) for their trouble.

However, this is my favorite passage:

The special sauce of Workflow is that it enables users to dip into specific ‘deep linked’ functions of individual apps and connect those actions together into a string of seamless, invisible commands. If that sounds familiar then you might be thinking of the budding Siri API — which will only be getting more beefy as time goes on.

It made me think about workflows in the context of complex tasks management. As business applications and PLM tools are moving away from monolithic single database oriented tools, management of tasks becomes even more complicated. It goes beyond simple task routing and requires flexible and agile tools to integrate applications, services, people working globally across multiple applications, time zones and teams.

What is my conclusion? Current paradigm of Workflow and business process management in PLM is outdated and requires revision. The requirements are coming from new manufacturing environment such as global team, multiple applications, data sharing and a high demand to get rid of Workflow mechanism complexity in existing tools. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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