The work automation explosion – a fork in the road for process platforms

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There’s an explosion of vendors entering the work automation space. Are the new entrants truly disrupting ‘heritage’ process platforms?

Over on LinkedIn yesterday a provocative post caught my eye: proposing that Apple’s acquisition of Workflow and Dell Boomi’s acquisition of ManyWho signal more nails in the coffins of established process application platforms (like those from Appian, Pegasystems, IBM, Software AG, OpenText, Bizagi, and so on and so on).

This is a fun provocation, but it only makes sense if you’re looking at things from 30,000 ft.

Within the overall market for (for argument’s sake, let’s call it) work automation tools, there are many individual segments aimed at different jobs-to-be-done. Apple Workflow is, for now at least, a personal app automation tool for iOS. Products like Smartsheet, Jira CORE, Trello and Asana (and many more) have really compelling features that help teams work together on projects and track the progress of tasks. Boomi has a cool platform for integrating applications and data sources across clouds and on-premises data centres.

Yes, these are all in the work automation space, but they don’t address the same jobs-to-be-done as most of the platforms from the more established ‘enterprise’ players.

I don’t think we’re yet near a point where the established players are up against an existential threat. In fact, the opposite can potentially be true: the Cambrian explosion of new suppliers of cloud-based, super-friendly work automation platforms is raising awareness of the value of systems that can co-ordinate work within and between teams, and also track and report on that work. This is a rising tide that might lift many boats.

However of course there’s a “but”.

There’s no doubt that across the board – at least in MWD Advisors’ world of how digital technology changes work – three trends are playing out in parallel: the rise of learning systems, the shift from as-a-service to self-service, and the shift from products to platforms. (Check out our recent trends report to learn more).

These trends do create an imperative for established suppliers of process application platforms. They must work fast to make their tools more consumable; and to make their platforms more open, flexible and modular. Most of them are figuring this out, although some are faster than others.

Apple’s acquisition of Workflow isn’t a harbinger of doom for the established process application platform providers, but it is another reminder that established vendors need to dial down the traditional product management emphasis on ‘throwing more features into the box’ and instead place more emphasis on ease of use, consumability, openness and flexibility.

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