Big online businesses are terrible at workflow and should stick with what they do best rather than trying to be everything to everyone.
Stick to what you know best
There are literally millions of apps out there and many of them are geared towards making you more productive at work. Some of them are good but a lot are terrible. The ones that are good tend to do one thing very well. Microsoft Outlook, Google Search and Linkedin are all examples of applications that millions (or billions) of us use every day. Let’s call them Tier 1 applications.
Then you go down the tiers and there are applications that we use less frequently like Maps, video conferencing tools and storage solutions. Like the Tier 1 apps – if they do one thing very well they tend to be successful and gain adoption. Some even become household names like Skype and Dropbox.
Where it gets a bit complicated is when you get into workflow apps. Problem is, there are so many workflows that it’s often hard to get a single app to cover all the bases. So it tends to get tribal. Developers use Jira. Accountants use Excel. Marketers use Marketo. Sales people use Salesforce. And so on.
And here’s where it gets really interesting:
There are a number of really good workflow apps on the market like Teamwork and Slack. They perform their own functions and they integrate with loads of other apps. They try to help platform-agnostic business users to integrate the apps they like and use into a new, more efficient workflow. The promise of saving time or money or both is what motivates business people to try new apps.
Getting workflow wrong
But now some of the bigger single function applications think they know better and are getting into the workflow game. Perhaps it’s greed. More likely hubris. Whatever the motivation, they are being criticised for things they probably never expected and are often left struggling to support their strategy.
Here are three examples:
- Facebook Business Manager was released a couple of years ago to help marketers with their ad accounts, Pages and the people who work on them. A workflow tool that took no notice of marketers who also wanted to run ads on Twitter and Linkedin and manage other stuff. If you Google it, Business Manager is described as “daunting” and “difficult”. Other workflow tools like Zendesk do not integrate with it out of principal. After more than 2 years on the market, it still resides in the “not really good enough” bucket of apps.
- Just a couple of months ago Apple bought Workflow which was originally designed to help workers who use iPhones and iPads get the most out of their tools. But in Apple’s infinite wisdom, they stopped support for a number of Google services like Maps and Chrome and they removed integrations with some other apps like Uber. This is completely counter-intuitive to what a business user would want. Chances are this will be one of those purchases that goes to zero in a pretty short period of time.
- Dropbox released Dropbox Paper in January. It’s a workflow and collaboration app designed to help Dropbox teams create, review, revise, manage, and organise—all in shared documents. Makes sense and I have more hope for this one. However, it has recently been criticised for its lack of editing and formatting functionality – something you would have thought would be core to the “revise” bit of their strategy. Possibly should have thought of that before the release. So long as the plan is to add this functionality then all should be forgiven, but it might be a big ask. Time will tell.
On one level, it makes sense that these large and successful businesses are adding functionality so that their business users can get more value out of them. And on another level, it’s interesting to see how wrong they seem to get it.
DAM has the answer
If they were to look at large Digital Asset Management platforms they might learn a thing or two.
A recent study by Forrester and commissioned by Nuxeo (one of the best new breed of DAM solutions in the business) shows that, in fact, fewer than 2 in 5 businesses that take on a large DAM solution actually stick with a single supplier. Instead, they use multiple suppliers and mix them together. Why? Because it is impossible to do everything well for everybody. And rather than changing how a business works, DAM suppliers are beginning to understand that they are better off opening up an API and letting the customer choose what they want to use.
Of course, as soon as you think that way a whole host of new headaches are created. Some of the biggest challenges for Digital Asset Management suppliers that Forrester found were:
- More than half of all collaboration happens outside the main Digital Asset Management system. We may be moving to a world of collaboration tools, but it seems that people still like their email and old habits die hard.
- Search is still a problem. Again, half of all respondents said that finding things quickly and easily posed a problem. And if you have to do it across multiple platforms then you can see how things get complicated quickly.
- Keeping up with new technology. I think it is fair to say that this will always be a challenge for digital asset management. Solutions need to be tried and tested before they can be implemented. I would accept this as a given until we can create a form of AI that can predict the next generation of technology and match it with a timely implementation.
- And working the solution across silos is problematic. Again –that’s probably a workplace truism.
Set your expectations
So here are a few bits of advice that I would give you, the worker, the next time you are looking for some sort of panacea around workflow and digital asset management applications.
- Workflow is hard to get right. Stick with what you know unless you are prepared to put the time and training in. You will change the way you work.
- The specialists are usually the best at it. That is, the ones that call themselves a workflow tool from the get-go. Try to find a solution that integrates with your favourite work tools and manage the integration the best you can.
- If you work for a large organisation and are implementing a DAM solution, accept the reality that it won’t do everything despite the fact that the marketing material (and the sales guy) say that they do. Talk to other clients and get understand what the pain points are. And don’t be afraid of the pain, it’s part and parcel of managing libraries of digital assets.
- The biggest change in technology over the past decade has been the migration to cloud services. It doesn’t mean you have to move everything there – but there are efficiencies that the cloud can facilitate (like multi-location file collaboration) that just are not possible on premise. Accept that the best solution is probably a hybrid solution.
- And be prepared to iterate. Buying and selling software was once an all or nothing proposition. It’s possible now to allow different departments and silos to manage their own solutions so long as there is a strategy and an overarching understanding of what is and isn’t possible.
Oh –and if you want to stick with post-its then stick with post-its – they work for loads of people and if I were a betting man, you will always be able to buy post-its.