Thursday, 11 September 2014

5 Types Of Cloud Workflow

Last Wednesday, Box Workflow was announced. It was a expected move for them to go higher up the stack as the cost of storage “races very quickly toward zero”.  It made me realize there are actually 4 different types of workflow solutions available on the cloud.

Box, Salesforce, Netsuite and many others have bolted workflow on top of their products.  In this case workflow is offered as a feature on a product with a different focus.  The advantage is they are well integrated with the product and that it’s available when you have the product already.  The downside can be that the scope is mostly limited to the product.

Another type is the BPM as a service (aka cloud enabled BPM).  BPM as a service has an online service for which you can register an account and use the product online without setting up or maintaining any IT infrastructure for it.  The cloud poses a different set of challenges and opportunities for BPM.  We at Effektif provide a product that is independent, focused on BPM and which is born and raised in the cloud.  In our case, we could say that our on-premise version is actually the afterthought.  Usually it’s the other way round.  Most cloud enabled BPM products were created for on-premise first and have since been tweaked to run on the cloud.  My opinion ‘might’ be a bit biased, but I believe that today’s hybrid enterprise environments are very different from the on-premise-only days.   Ensuring that a BPM solution integrates seamless with other cloud services is non-trivial.   Especially when it needs to integrate just as well with existing on-premise products.

BPM platform as a service (bpmPaaS) is an extension of virtualization.  These are prepackaged images of BPM solutions that can be deployed on a hosting provider.  So you rent a virtual machine with a hosting provider and you then have a ready-to-go image that you can deploy on that machine to run your BPM engine.  As an example, you can have a look at Red Hat’s bpmPaaS cartridge.

Amazon simple workflow service is in many ways unique and a category on it‘s own in my opinion.  It is a developer service that in essence stores the process instance data and it takes care of the distributed locking of activity instances.  All the rest is up to the user to code.  The business logic in the activities has to be coded.  But what makes Amazon’s workflow really unique is that you can (well.. have to) code the logic between the activities yourself as well.  There's no diagram involved.  So when an activity is completed, your code has to perform the calculation of what activities have to be done next.  I think it provides a lot of freedom, but it’s also courageous of them to fight the uphill battle against the user’s expectations of a visual workflow diagram builder.

Then there is IFTTT and Zapier.  These are in my opinion iconic online services because they define a new product category.  At the core, they provide an integration service.  Integration has traditionally been one of the most low level technical aspects of software automation.  Yet they managed to provide this as an online service enabling everyone to accomplish significant integrations without IT or developer involvement.  I refer to those services a lot because they have transformed something that was complex into something simple.  That, I believe, is a significant accomplishment.  We at Effektif are on a similar mission.  BPM has been quite technical and complex.  Our mission is also to remove the need for technical expertise so that you can build your own processes. 


  1. Nice overview of the market, Tom. Although I think you also should include KissFlow and RunMyProcess in your list, as they also have an interesting position in the Cloud BPM market.

    Anyway, what I think is that you still see a lot of focus on integration and automation in all of these kind of solutions.

    I see a big lacking of the M (Management) part of BPM.

    Where are the analytics? The workflow tracking? The potential (real) business process improvement that you could do with these tools?

    BPM tools should support decisions, operations, and management and most of the tools are mostly about making work easier or automated.


  2. Good point, Filipe.

    I agree that things like finding bottlenecks, business insights and decision support belong in cloud workflow solutions. We're working hard to make it happen :)