Workflow’s Growing Influence in Unexpected Ways

by Larry Barrett | 6/29/13
Whenever there’s a paradigm shift in the fundamental way people access, use, share or create content – for everything from technology to entertainment to education – it’s always a really good idea to take a look at what the leaders are up to. That’s especially true today with workflow and business process optimization.

More than just paying attention to where the industry leaders “say” they’re going, it’s crucial to see what they do and ask why they do the things they do after they’ve committed to their new direction. And, of course, always follow the money.

Adobe Systems, the multimedia publishing (Web and print) and design software juggernaut, certainly qualifies as a leader. For more than 30 years, Adobe has been selling packaged software to companies and consumers that’s installed on individual PCs and servers. Sales of Photoshop, Illustrator and Acrobat – among many, many others – have generated billions in sales and profits over the last three decades and revolutionized the way we access, share and create content. Until fairly recently, that installed business model was working just fine.

But not for long.

A company called Salesforce.com came along about 17 years later, and while it didn’t exactly “invent” the software-as-a-service model, it’s practically perfected it. Instead of committing to massive software implementations – complete with pricey licensing, service and maintenance contracts – companies and individual users could now simply subscribe to the applications they needed for a flat monthly rate, bail whenever they wanted and access their apps from a Web browser.

Don’t forget about upgrades. Not only are they important (security, functionality) and constant, they’re (well, mostly were) a tremendous pain in the butt for enterprise customers with hundreds of thousands of users scattered around the globe. A typical Fortune 500 company – the “mother ship” – can have 10, 12 or more different business units or divisions that far too often tend to operate as separate entities of their own.

Along with different products and priorities, these business units often have different IT budgets, staff and upgrade schedules.

When you’re talking about software synchronization of this scale, it’s virtually impossible to effectively and efficiently – to say nothing of affordably – coordinate the installation of the most current version(s) of five or 10 or 22 business-critical, on-site software applications.

That’s a workflow problem of another magnitude, and it could, at times, paralyze organizations. When the left hand and the right hand must use a common tool, but one is using an outdated version of said tool or can’t access the project, document or process they’re collaborating on, frustration and inefficiency abound. Ratchet up the degree of difficulty by trying to support and secure remote access to these native, on-premise apps, and you’re practically begging for a mutiny.

Salesforce.com, among others, solved that workflow problem. It quelled the uprising by giving the masses what they wanted, what they needed. Today, all the monolith software companies – SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, et al. – are and have been (begrudgingly, initially) killing themselves to provide cloud-based subscriptions for their most popular and revenue-generating applications. A device (PC, laptop, tablet, smartphone, a pair of glasses?), an Internet connection, a browser and a subscription cleared the way for innovation.

Which bring us back to Adobe – and the power and importance of workflow.

Adobe released its second-quarter earnings on June 18. It earned $183 million in the three-month period on sales of $1.01 billion. Pretty good, right? But more telling was the headline at the very top of the press release: “Creative Cloud Subscriptions Hit 700 Thousand; Adobe Marketing Cloud Bookings Grow Over 25 Percent”

Let’s back up a bit.

A little over a year ago, Adobe made the bold decision to offer something it calls the Adobe Creative Cloud. Don’t get confused. It’s not a cloud-based suite of applications. But it is a subscription model that allows users to pay as little as $50 a month to access (and download to a device of choice) Illustrator, Premier Pro, Flash Professional, Audition, InCopy, InDesign, After Effects, SpeedGrade, Prelude, Muse and a handful of other add-on software packages – exactly the buffet of apps that artists, multimedia savants, photographers, graphic designers and website designers need.

Adobe is also including something called GoodSync to this Creative Cloud, giving users the ability to share, save and access the most recent version of a file created from this smorgasbord of applications on both mobile and desktop devices. Also, when any or all of the apps are updated by Adobe, subscribers automatically get the most current version(s).

“Creative Cloud is revolutionizing the creative process, and Adobe Marketing Cloud is quickly becoming the platform of choice for the world’s leading brands, advertising agencies and media companies,” Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen said in the earnings release.

In roughly 12 months, Adobe sold more than 700,000 Creative Cloud subscriptions, and the company is projecting it will garner more than 1.25 million subscribers by year’s end.

It’s not that the subscription versions of Illustrator or Premier Pro are any better than the traditional on-premise, installed versions. It’s a little bit about the way they’re sold and a little bit about they way they’re updated. But it’s mostly about how the people who depend upon them for their daily workflows can now efficiently use them to create and share the information and projects they need to thrive.

That’s the DNA of workflow.

When Adobe, an undisputed leader in its market, rolls the dice by embracing an entirely new business model – especially when it really didn’t have to – and realizes a degree of success that even its top executives could never have predicted, it should make us all wonder what other mutinies are afoot.