Business

How workflow software could be the backbone of the future web

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Web 3.0 is knocking, and you will never guess who is opening the door: workflow software.

Traditionally an enterprise-level business process management tool, workflow software is coming into its own as Internet technologies become more and more connected. (Disclosure: I work for workflow technology vendor Decisions.com.)

Granted, the social media industry has done a lot of the heavy lifting in the Web 2.0 world by connecting people, but social networking as we know it is now more than a decade old — Facebook is nearly 10 years old! So, how is this legacy enterprise tool that predates social media transforming itself to become the platform for the next generation of internet technology? And how can I claim that Web 2.0 has come and gone? Let’s take a look.

Web 1.0: ‘The Static Web’

Essentially, Web 1.0 was the birth of the interwebs. Back in the 1990s we had static HTML pages that were found predominantly through directories and bookmarks. No man was an island, but web pages and information in the Internet were compartmentalized and were oceans away from each other.

Marketers were just starting to realize the potential of internet advertising and lead generation, but there wasn’t too much in the way of software products designed to help with that effort.

Workflow at this time was rudimentary, mostly focused on specific applications that required basic approval processes. But when people and software started talking more online, and the web began to mature, some very interesting things started to happen.

Web 2.0: ‘The Social Web’ or ‘The Collaborative Web’

There has been intense debate over what Web. 2.0 is, and some even say that we still haven’t reached it yet. I think that we have not only reached Web 2.0, but we have surpassed it. This era added value through new forms, and new models of communication. Web 2.0 was about people and systems being able to communicate across multiple platforms.

We recognized that there needs to be some level of uniformity in the way that we interact with each other online (I am not just talking about human to human interaction here). We created a number of standard formats that allowed for quick communication between systems. We enabled better human-to-human interaction through social media and better system-to-system interaction through the advent of the API (application programming interface). This was one of the marquee events of Web 2.0.

Throughout the 2000s we developed new, more intuitive ways to find things online, to interact online, and to create things online. We had basic APIs that allowed developers to integrate with powerful foundations of data and structure. We had telephone lines between those website islands that could send data between apps, systems, and platforms. We were talking; we were doing a lot of talking.

Marketing experts who had added polish to banner ads and other forms of internet advertising throughout Web 1.0 liked all of this chatter and started to come up with ways to be a part of the conversation. Pay-per-click campaigns, better content management systems, search engine optimization software, customer relationship management software, social media management tools, and many other disparate pieces of marketing software started to see huge demand as the need to manage all of this online traffic grew.

Workflow evolved during that time as well. Managing huge enterprise IT systems was made easier through automated processes created and managed with workflow platforms. The idea of ranking algorithms and recommendations emerged and required custom componentry that workflow platforms have had for some time, but the technology had yet to be applied that way until now.

Welcome to Web 3.0: ‘The Integrated Web’ (Not ‘The Semantic Web’)

Many are pushing for this thing called “The Semantic Web” where an app will be able to understand user interaction in such a way that it will not only return directly relevant results (for example, a search for “showtimes 84003” returning what time movies are playing at the Cinemark in American Fork, Utah) but also indirectly relevant results such as places for dinner that are nearby because you are probably going on a date, or gas stations en route because the app knows your car is out of gas. These concepts are exciting, innovative, and forward thinking, but there is a critical evolutionary step missing between the “The Social Web” and “The Semantic Web”: being able to take one object, and pass it through multiple services to accomplish a task.

Instead of a world where the app returns data about indirectly relevant things, what if it could instead automatically perform those indirectly relevant services for you upon approval? In other words, if you are going to show me “The Semantic Web,” show me a semantic web that can get things done without me needing to go between a number of different apps, web pages, and more.

For example, you have one object, the customer (aka. prospect, lead, opportunity, etc.) that needs to be taken through a growing number of disconnected pieces of marketing and sales tools and finally returned to accomplish any number of given tasks. Marketing needs the web analytics data to be attributed to the form submission that was handled by their CMS. Email campaigns need to be included in that story as well so that we can know how many touch points it takes to convert a lead. Oh, by the way, sales uses a piece of software to take notes on calls and manage the pipeline; would it be helpful to know what content the lead has seen on the website, or what emails they have responded to? And then we have all of the billing processes and accounting software, followed by more marketing and sales action in the customer success lifecycle. Take a deep breath.

Workflow software is the glue, the foundation that is bringing all of this together in Web 3.0, leveraging the progress made by the social media leaders of Web 2.0. “Social” connected people, “workflow” connects companies, systems, technology, apps, and people. And it is not just going to solve the CRM problem. It is going to help solve the big data problem, the cloud security problem, and many of the roadblocks facing software technology today.

How to innovators should adopt Web 3.0

In order to take advantage of this evolution, you are going to need a way to manage your processes across multiple services. Over time, more and more products will emerge that integrate multiple services. Marketing automation is just the beginning. However, waiting for these services to evolve into a full, integrated service solution will put you behind the game. Not only because one size won’t fit all, but because your competitors will have figured out a way to make it happen exactly the way they need it to work.

Good workflow platforms will cater to specific needs and technology stacks and will take a bit of effort to implement. Great workflow platforms will bring the primary components of workflow (forms, flows, rules, and dashboards) into one hosted package that will allow you to flip a switch, connect the dots, and start running.

I am excited to see people use workflow software to create Web 3.0 services that will make “The Semantic Web” not only a reality, but a meaningful reality.

Kevin Lindquist is the head of marketing at Decisions. He has worked with Square, Asus, and Fundly. A Crocker Innovation Fellow with a degree from Brigham Young University, Kevin has a rich history in identifying pains and applying technology solutions. He has worked with a number of startups and success stories in the software and hardware space from Silicon Valley, The Silicon Slopes, and abroad including: Square, ASUS, and Fundly along with consultative roles at other Utah technology startups. You can follow him on Twitter @growthhackerguy or @decisionstweets.


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