The enterprise is quickly heading into the era of workflow automation with dreams of placing all the mundane, routine tasks of running a business in the hands of intelligent software while humans get to do the fun, creative stuff.
While the effects of this on employment are hotly debated, the fact remains that the technology is quickly coming of age and the enterprise needs to prepare for it or risk losing out to automated rivals.
According to Marlon Miller, director of workflow automation at Xerox Corp., the first challenge is to determine the kind of automation you need and the proper means to support it. Should it be a specific line-of-business (LOB) solution or an enterprise-layer shared solution that can cut across multiple areas? The former will likely provide direct results for key functions, but the latter offers a more far-reaching environment that can target the common elements in many workflow, case management and content management processes. A broader enterprise solution will also support the development of a common data repository that will benefit multiple areas like compliance and data protection.
The steady stream of workflow automation tools is testament to the mounting interest in leveraging machine learning and other intelligent capabilities to enhance data utilization in the enterprise. IBM and Box recently teamed up to create Box Relay, a cloud-based workflow automation tool aimed at boosting collaboration and data sharing even as it takes on rote tasks like expense reporting and document approval. The system is built on IBM’s Bluemix cloud platform and provides real-time visibility and automated storage so projects maintain continuity even as workflows are transferred between platforms like Office, Adobe and Salesforce. At the same time, users can tap into other Box security and control functions like Box KeySafe, Zones and Governance. (Disclosure: I provide content services to IBM.)
EMC-Dell is also moving quickly into the automation space by augmenting systems like the XtremIO Flash platform. The company has added workflow automation, copy data management and new orchestration tools designed to improve data processes within virtualized Microsoft and VMware environments. A new vRealize Orchestrator plug-in, for instance, allows for the creation of a self-service catalog of automated workflows that can be accessed by IT, database admins and application owners. As well, native support for Microsoft PowerShell provides a full scripting environment that can be used to automate all operations within a virtualized construct.
Workflow automation is also seen as the key to hybrid clouds, which by nature involve tight coordination between workflows, applications and disparate sets of underlying infrastructure. Rackspace recently partnered up with session management specialist Vizru to implement a low-code/no-code approach to workflow optimization by shunting the messy aspects of system integration and orchestration to an automation stack. In this way, users gain the ability to quickly create collaborative applications without having to delve into the intricacies of infrastructure management themselves or having to wait for IT to manually provision the necessary resources. At the same time, it provides for more robust security and access control across distributed architectures.
The key benefit to workflow automation is that it allows knowledge workers of all stripes to focus on what they do best – whether that is sales, marketing, accounting or what have you – while IT is freed from the burden of actually having to manage day-to-day data operations. This should allow both sets of workers to enhance their value to the organization rather than remain as increasingly expensive necessary burdens.
It’s the difference between working to make things better vs. working to prevent things from getting worse.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.