Wikipedia describes a workflow as “comprising an orchestrated and repeatable pattern of business activity, enabled by the systematic organization of resources into processes that transform materials, provide services, or process information”. Or, to put it simple words, “a workflow defines the steps involved in getting work done.”
In the world of application development (except static info applications), a typical workflow consists of many different business operations. This often requires moving through different conditions and may depend on previous operations. When these business operations are not very complicated and their change frequency is very limited or minimum, architects and developers use the conditional flow of the code. However, consider a business requirement where change is needed frequently – managing it through the conditional flow of code is bound to present many challenges as well as maintenance requirements.
A business workflow is a process that is repeatable and incorporates a series of tasks that should be carried out in a specific sequence to reach the final stage. Workflows are useful to ensure that critical processes are carried out in a pre-defined way every single time.
Why do we need workflow?
Think of any progress tracking tool. Let us take JIRA for instance; as with most tracking tools, JIRA moves through distinct steps such as defining requirements, design, development, reviews, testing, and of course, the final stage of completion. Each time this process is carried out, it can be done through the conditional flow of code. However, in the event that the process flow of a project veers off the usual path – perhaps a slight alteration in the flow or an additional round of testing – doing it through code flow will create many challenges. This is where a workflow engine can be beneficial.
Workflows can orchestrate services, create processes, monitor, evaluate a rule to come up with a decision, coordinate activities with several people and groups, automate tasks and act when needed. The success of workflows has resulted in several commercial and open-source workflow engines available today that can devise a seamless workflow for your complex business processes.
The following are a few areas where you can use a workflow engine to automate repetitive and sequential tasks.
- Streamline business operations
- Automate redundant processes and activities
- Remove manual processes
- Easily investigate issues or problems
Workflow with Microservice
Microservice is not an unfamiliar term in today’s world. With companies across the globe focusing their efforts on moving towards digital transformation, microservices have become the go-to architectural style. Though microservices come with plenty of benefits, there are a few complexities associated with them. Some of the challenges with microservice designs are:
- Functional boundaries
- New service additions
- Internal API communications
- Business processes depend on other operations to complete
- Transaction management between services
The biggest complexity lies in the fact that APIs need to be orchestrated, and as new services are added, business functionalities tend to overlap other services. Take Netflix for instance, with 500+ services running in production, there is added complexity with API calls. For the above-mentioned challenges, it is necessary to identify a workflow engine to use in the application.
Recently, one of our clients faced a similar challenge, and we provided a solution by examining different workflow engines and finally chose the open-source tool Flowable. Selecting Flowable was deemed a great success for the project, as it provided seamless integration with Spring Boot applications.
Salient features of Flowable:
Microservice orchestration: Flowable can be used as a central orchestrator for the microservice, and can monitor and drive interactions between different services as the flow of information, or sequence of tasks, in either a synchronized or unsynchronized manner.
Microservices choreography: When using an event-based model, Flowable works seamlessly with each microservice by reacting to unique events, thereby enabling parallel and async processes to work together.
Hybrid approach: Orchestration and choreography both have benefits and trade-offs. Flowable can be designed to use both approaches based on business requirements.
Effective and structured processes are crucial for any business. To achieve this, businesses must integrate a workflow engine into their existing IT infrastructure. If you are interested in learning how microservices can benefit your enterprise, talk with one of our experts from our Microservices Consulting Services practice.