On the Radar: ManyWho

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ManyWho is an early-stage company offering an innovative cloud-based workflow technology platform, also called ManyWho. In brief: in ManyWho, the structure of a workflow as a set of tasks that need to happen in a particular order is defined at design-time; but at runtime, individuals participating in ManyWho applications can have significant discretion over how individual tasks are completed, and by whom.

Who?

ManyWho is an early-stage company offering an innovative and convention-busting cloud-based workflow platform. The company was founded by Steve Wood and Dave Norris, the founders of Informavores (another workflow technology provider, acquired by Salesforce.com in 2009). ManyWho is backed by Salesforce Ventures.

What does it do?

ManyWho is a lightweight, cloud-based workflow platform that the company has built around a particular set of ideas about how people work together to get work done (rather than pursuing a rigid interpretation of workflow conventions). In brief: in ManyWho, the structure of a workflow as a set of tasks that need to happen in a particular order is defined at design-time; but at runtime, individuals participating in ManyWho applications can have significant discretion over how individual tasks are completed, and by whom.

As you would expect, the applications you create using ManyWho are constructed from three main different types of objects:

  • Workflows. ManyWho doesn’t support BPMN, and indeed it actively steers away from many established conventions about how business processes should be modeled. The notation is intentionally very simple and compact; however workflow models can exhibit most of the core features you’d expect to see – branching and merging, subflows, swimlanes and so on. Importantly though, swimlanes are used more as ways of identifying tasks that can only be carried out by individuals with certain permissions, than they are as ways of formally modeling and separating defined roles that particular groups of people or systems will play.
  • Forms and pages. ManyWho implements an idea that other vendors are slowly warming to – creating a clear separation between a logical definition of a user interface and its concrete implementation (in a dynamic website, or a mobile app, etc) – and takes it to its logical conclusion. When you define a user interface for a task or an application page that will be presented in a ManyWho application, you’re only defining the logical structure of the interface – you’re defining the formats and behaviours of form fields, their relationship to each other, and so on. However these interface definitions are actually delivered to users, as JSON data, via a ‘player’ application that is provided merely as a default option. With ManyWho’s extensive APIs, it’s entirely possible for you to build one, or many, alternative ‘players’ for your applications. The default player is fully responsive, though, and is based on HTML5, in combination with a variety of client-side Javascript frameworks (Facebook React, JQuery, Bootstrap, and so on).
  • In addition, ManyWho makes extensive use of reusable ‘plugins’ to facilitate integration with external applications, data sources and platforms, and also to extend the core functionality of the platform.

It’s in the runtime environment where the novel approach that ManyWho takes really becomes obvious, though. Tasks are made available to people who have sufficient permissions within the application; however, when an individual claims a task, they can choose to collaborate online with others to complete the task. Native co-editing of task forms within the platform means that inviting another to assist, and then working with them realtime on the task, feels very natural. What’s more, an individual working on a task can temporarily grant rights to another individual to enable them to collaborate on a given task, or hand the task to another individual temporarily so they can review or approve a change before handing it back. Given that individuals within the ManyWho platform can just as easily be customers as ‘internal’ employees, this kind of collaborative task working is a particularly powerful capability in customer-facing scenarios.

ManyWho allows you to subscribe using usage-based or user-based pricing. Usage-based pricing is organised into bands; the entry-level band allows for up to five applications with up to 2,500 application launches per month, and costs $1,000 per month. User-based pricing is also banded; the entry-level band allows for up to five applications with up to 100 application launches per user per month, and costs $10 per user per month.

Who is it for?

ManyWho highlights three broad groups of individuals it can help co-ordinate their work with its technology:

  • Mobile workers – site surveying and reporting, equipment leasing, and field service operations scenarios.
  • Contact centre staff – claims handling, technical support, and regulated sales scenarios.
  • Back office processing staff – customer onboarding, employee onboarding, and order provisioning scenarios.

ManyWho’s capabilities mean it’s going to be particularly interesting to organisations wanting to start quickly, and get value quickly, from workflow technology; and even more so when scenarios under consideration involve working to support customer interactions.

Why is it interesting?

At a high level, ManyWho might sound like just another supplier in the already crowded space of cloud-based workflow tools. However there are five reasons why ManyWho is particularly interesting:

  • New ways to help people get work done in a workflow context. Although ManyWho application specifications revolve around the core of a workflow diagram that indicates what tasks need to be perform in what order, workflow models are not static prescriptions that dictate who can do what, when. By designing ManyWho around the ways that people get work done in real-world situations, the company has created a work environment that feels like a natural blend between a workflow system experience and a collaboration platform experience.
  • Openness and extensibility. ManyWho has determined that its business model (based to a significant extent on third-party licensing and embedding of the platform) is best served by focusing strongly on its core platform technologies, and by making everything else (workflow invocation and messaging, user interface behaviour, integration capability, and so on) as extensible as possible by providing open APIs and shared-source components. The default user-interface technology and the data synchronisation technology that underpins ManyWho’s integration adapters are available as shared-source code; and further to that, all workflow state and related business data stored by the platform is made available to external services and applications through an open OData API.
  • Compactness. The application runtime engine that executes workflows, manages application data and distributes tasks can be compressed so that it runs in 2Mb of memory and runs on an iPhone. What this means is that ManyWho applications can run ‘offline’, where tasks and flows are executed locally on a smartphone or tablet before being synchronised with a server when connectivity is re-established.
  • Flexible hosting. By default ManyWho is available via a multi-tenant public cloud platform, but the company can also support customers who want to store state (business) data externally. Furthermore ManyWho can deploy to a dedicated deployment for any given customer, and in certain cases will allow customers to deploy ManyWho to a private cloud platform.
  • A toolset built on itself. ManyWho’s design-time tools are built using the core ManyWho platform, and therefore exhibit many of the core features that complete ManyWho applications exhibit: the most obvious of which is the co-editing feature, which enables multiple designers and developers to work together collaboratively on objects in real time.

How established is it?

ManyWho was founded in 2013, and currently runs a small core team based in California and the UK. Salesforce.com is an investor in the company, and it already has a good number of high-profile customers: including Barclays, BCD Travel and BlueCross BlueShield. It also has an OEM licensing agreement with cloud-based contact centre service provider Corvisa (also an investor in the company), which leverages ManyWho for its CorvisaOne Workflow features.

ManyWho asserts that it will turn its first profit in 2015.

How open is it?

Openness is central to ManyWho’s proposition; the company’s business model revolves around focusing on the core functionality of the platform, and opening access to all ‘peripheral’ features to third party companies and communities (in a kind of reversal of the model of providers like JBoss, which provides an open-source jBPM core and charges for proprietary extensions). As an example, ManyWho makes the source code of its web-browser ‘player’ available as shared-source IP to anyone who wants to access and modify it to create variations for use with the ManyWho platform.

There’s an integration software development kit (SDK), and pre-built integration adapters to Salesforce, Box and Corvisa, Google, Slack, Dell Boomi, Confluence, GoToAssist,Twilio and Zuora SaaS applications. ManyWho works with the OAuth authentication protocol so customers can integrate the platform with their existing preferred user identity authorisation information source.

Who does it partner with?

As mentioned above, ManyWho has an OEM licensing arrangement with Corvisa. At the time of writing ManyWho has no other formal technology or business development partnerships in place.  However, the company does work on a case by case basis with professional service implementers – one recent project, for example, was delivered by Deloitte Consulting.

Are there areas for improvement?

As an early-stage technology company, ManyWho has naturally prioritised the development of its core technology over initiatives that may pay later dividends – such as building up an active partner network, building up ‘peripheral’ technology capabilities (such as team development features, an in-platform repository to foster object change/lifecycle management and reuse, out-of-the-box dashboarding and reporting, and so on). ManyWho is firmly targeting an early-adopter audience right now, and so expects that customers will be happy to work to build out these capabilities themselves. For now, this is a sensible strategy – but as the company continues to grow and reach more organisations, it may need to flesh out its core platform with a broader set of capabilities – even if (as with today’s ‘player’ applications) they are default options that can be replaced.

What’s next?

ManyWho’s product roadmap prioritises a number of features. The first is enhanced error-handling and notification functionality; other priorities include securing HIPAA and PCI compliance for the platform, and more streamlined methods of storing and managing workflow state information at scale. ManyWho is also redesigning aspects of its drag-and-drop design experience following early customer feedback. The company is dedicated to continuing to share aspects of its platform openly, and it’s planning to release the code for its mobile framework and offline synchronisation/caching components in the coming months.

Should I consider it?

If you’re exploring the potential of using a cloud-based platform to help you co-ordinate work between teams and link SaaS application investments – and particularly if you’re looking at scenarios that revolve around support of customer-facing activities – then you should definitely consider ManyWho.

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  1. Pingback: CIO WaterCooler 2017 | CIO Role | CIO Insight | CIO Reports | Innovative Technology | Business Transformation | CIO Leadership » Dell Boomi finds a workflow fit with ManyWho

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