A closer look at VMware Workspace One Mobile Flows

What’s a “workflow” app? Is VMware getting into the app dev game? Find out here.

At VMworld 2017, we learned about Workspace One Mobile Flows, VMware’s entry into the “workflow app” space.

Today, let’s take a close look at what a workflow app actually is; what we know about VMware’s offering; how VMware is working with partners; and why this is useful.

What is a workflow app?

A “workflow” app is a fairly specific type of app—it’s not for general file access, chatting, or content manipulation—rather, it’s for performing discrete tasks based on events, time, location, or other contextual inputs. The tasks could be business decisions; small sets of dependant, recurring operations; or quick data entry or retrieval. Generally, these are tasks that can be completed quickly, in a few seconds to a minutes at most. These apps may also be referred to as micro apps.

One of the hallmarks of workflow apps is facilitating tasks that involve multiple other systems, by integrating with email/chat, databases, CRM/HR/ERP, service tickets, and so on. This is especially important on mobile devices, where switching back and forth between apps can be a pain.

Workflows are often presented in what’s referred to as a “card” UI—essentially, a little snippet of an app that shows information you need, along the required inputs to take action on the information. A single card usually isn’t worth having its own freestanding app, so they get inserted other places—for example, inside or next to email messages, in chat apps like Slack, or an another app that shows various workflow cards as needed.

Examples of workflow tasks include expense report approvals, assigning service tickets, showing dashboard alerts, or stock lookups. (Check out Sapho for some more examples.)

On to VMware’s stuff

VMware has been thinking about this concept at least as far back as AirWatch Connect 2016, where they showed off a proof of concept. At the time, I described it as “a smart assistant app that leverages data from multiple enterprise apps. It’s kind of like Siri, except it can reach into Salesforce, employee directories, maps; it uses Workspace One infrastructure; etc.

Colin Steele scooped the Mobile Flows announcement a few weeks ahead of VMworld, and Mobile Flows was featured in the EUC super session. I talked to Marshall Anne Busbee, the product manager, for more details.

Mobile Flows is in now in tech preview, with no time table for general available at the moment; interested customers can sign up for the beta. It will be a paid add-on to Workspace One, with pricing to be determined.

Like many similar products we’ve covered, it helps to think of Mobile Flows in three parts. You need a client end where you can present the cards; you need some backend integrations to connect to all your systems of record; and you need a policy and logic engine in the middle.

With Mobile Flows, obviously VMware Workspace One is serving as the central core, since it already has a policy and compliance engine, identity integrations, visibility into devices and apps, data from Workspace One Intelligence, integration with the AirWatch mobile app management, security, and DLP features, and more. Some of these things will be available in Mobile Flows right away, others will take time, but you get the idea.

On the client end, they’re targeting “everywhere”—but for now, the cards will appear in above the email body Boxer; they’re releasing a Mobile Flows SDK, so that you can do your own client implementations; and they’ll also make a sample app that’s a reference implementation of the SDK. In the future, VMware will make it part of the Workspace One clients. Partners can also surface the cards, as Powwow demonstrated at VMworld (video via VMBlog).

On the other end, to integrate with systems of record, VMware will have prebuilt connectors for Salesforce and Jira (plus you can imaging that it should be pretty easy for them to pull data out of Workspace One to build IT-oriented workflow cards). They also have an open source connector for building custom integrations. Beyond that, VMware is leaning on partners for further integrations, the partners being Capriza, Dell Boomi, Powwow, and Sapho.

VMware had some Mobile Flows demo videos in the EUC super session (at 1:22:46). Another feature they showed is that in Boxer, cards can be called up based on content in an email. For example, an email regarding an RFQ can trigger an action in Salesforce.

Thoughts

I’ve always liked the idea of having some sort of simple app capabilities built into EMM platforms as a way of getting companies to dip their toes in the water for in-house apps. We’ll see how the pricing works out, but hopefully VMware makes it easy to get started.

It’s probably good that VMware is leveraging partners to enable all the backend integrations with various other enterprise application, because that would be a huge chunk to do on their own. (Of course, one of the things that we’re interested in is integrating with existing Windows and web apps with Powwow and Capriza.)

It also makes a lot of sense to have the Mobile Flows logic engine in Workspace One, where all the information and policies for your EUC environment should already be. However, this does leave the partners in more of a tactical integration role than a strategic role for customers. On the other hand, I can’t see VMware wanting to become a full-fledged mobile app development platform, so I think there will always be that space for partners.

Some of the example use cases might get you started on some workflow ideas. We could talk a lot about what makes a good mobile app and what doesn’t, but with workflow apps, the key is to not think “what big legacy application to I want to convert to mobile?” but instead “what specific task could benefit from being mobile?”

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