Workflows are everywhere

Before this blog post got published, I sent my draft version to our marketing team. They looked at it, added some buzz words, fixed my “Denglish”, and sent it back to me for approval. I reverentially complied and it got published 🙂

The different kinds of workflows

Looking at this small interaction shows an ad-hoc collaboration between different employees to achieve the goal of publishing a blog post. The process is not very structured as publishing is not at the core of our business. But if Canto was an online media outlet publishing hundreds of articles each week, we could not work on such an ad-hoc basis as it doesn’t scale. We would need to agree on the required steps and wire them into an order in a process definition. Our publication process would be driven by a workflow engine to ensure every blog post is handled in the same manner and gets published on time.

This small example shows there are different kinds of workflows:

  Ad-hoc collaboration Status-based workflow Integration workflow
Definition Users collaborate in an ad-hoc manner to achieve a common goal. Collaboration is unstructured and short-lived. Users make use of a predefined process driven by a workflow engine to handle items in a standardized way. Machine-to-machine integration to exchange data without user interaction.
DAM example Users collaborate on an ad-hoc basis to create a new rendition of some file. Files must go through a defined approval workflow before they get approved for usage. Automated continuous photo ingestion from different news agency subscriptions.

Ad-hoc collaboration workflows in Cumulus

Cumulus provides a wide variety of tools to support ad-hoc collaboration workflows between users – be it colleagues, freelancers or sales partners. For example, you can share a selection of files using a download collection. You can ask your freelance contributor to upload his work using an upload collection. You can use comments and visual markup annotations to discuss the status of a file and possible improvements. If an urgent change is needed, you can mention another user in a comment, making sure he will get an email notification about your comment in his inbox.  Stay informed about metadata changes or new file versions by subscribing to files.

New: Status-based workflows in Cumulus

Managing status-based workflows in Cumulus is not a completely new topic. There are hundreds of customers working with Cumulus in such a manner. They use custom metadata fields to keep track of the status of files. Metadata and permission templates come in handy to change the status and visibility of files. Asset actions can be used to generate new file renditions when needed. Triggers on files and categories can initiate status changes. However, in the past putting those tools together required some in-depth knowledge.

With Cumulus 9.2, we made the use of status-based workflows very easy and intuitive. Such a workflow consists of:

  • states
  • activities
  • assignments

Files are in a certain state. A user invokes an activity to transition a file from one state to another. Activities might have effects like applying a metadata template or executing asset actions. Activities can also have pre-conditions. If those conditions are not met, the user can’t execute the activity. A file can be assigned to a user or a group of users. An activity can change the assignment.

Example: Legal review workflow

Let’s take a look at a concrete example. Imagine we want to structure our workflows around the management of copyright licenses of our creative content (for more information on how Cumulus can help you with digital rights management see our whitepaper). The following legal review workflow was sketched as a BPMN 2 diagram using the free ARIS Express tool.

workflow_example

In this workflow, a file can be in one of two states:

  • In Review
  • License Set

When a file is in review, it is assigned to a reviewer, which could be a legal department. The reviewer evaluates the license of the file and selects one of the 3 available activities:

  • Approve for Internet & Print usage
  • Approve for Print usage
  • Disapprove usage of the file as no license is available

Those activities apply different metadata templates to the file so that the correct license information is stored in the file’s metadata. After performing the activity, the file transitions to the license set state. In this state, the file is not assigned to anyone anymore as there are no open actions to be taken. If the license expires, users can put the file in review again by invoking the put in review activity. This activity can also be invoked automatically when a new file is ingested or a new version gets uploaded.

Cumulus workflow screenshot

This simple workflow ensures that files can’t be used unless they are in the license set state. It also makes sure license review follows a pre-defined workflow. The reviewers always have an up-to-date dashboard listing all their to-dos.

Integration workflows in Cumulus

Our Canto Professional Services consultants and partners have integrated Cumulus with other systems for many years – such as Project Management, Product Information Management, eCommerce and other systems. Depending on the integration need, different tools are available. Process driven integrations are best managed with our workflow engine RoboFlow. For repeating synchronizations, a custom Scheduler job is a lean approach. More sophisticated integrations might require custom coding based on our CIP REST API or the Cumulus Java Classes.

Summary

Of course, status-based workflows can be combined with integration workflows. For example, RoboFlow can ingest files retrieved from some external system. Afterwards, it can start a status-based workflow on the newly ingested files. You can also invoke activities or retrieve all to-dos of a user via our CIP REST API or Cumulus Java Classes. This opens up even more possibilities to integrate Cumulus in your overall business processes.