First of all, let me start by saying what a workflow engine is: we already talked about workflow management, system and application and, within this universe, a workflow engine is another one of the tools you can use when looking for better ways to manage your workflows.
A workflow engine is, basically, a software application designed to manage business processes. It differs from your everyday workflow application mostly because it uses a database server. This type of software manages and monitors the state of the activities in your everyday workflows while also determining which new activity you should transition to according to your pre-defined processes.
The software development industry creates a unique set of challenges to be managed because, unlike any other industries, software development may present you with a lot of different situations and eventually problems that are far less common and peculiar to work around.
For that reason, and some others we’ll point out further down the line, having a workflow engine in place can be so important within software development teams. By saving all of the time you would have spent doing easily automated processes, you can work on reducing the actual problems you are going to face – automating the easiest tasks you’ll remove the occurrence of human error.
A typical workflow engine, therefore, would work alongside your team in order to ensure that, with the help of your database server, all the “easy” stuff can be taken care of by the system. By managing and then improving the overall state of the workflow and the activities being done, a workflow engine will be used to ensure that your actually working towards meeting you business goals.
Why should you use a workflow engine:
The use of a workflow engine will ultimately “force” you to rethink the way you write software – it actually makes you separate your overall business processes from the actual software development ones. Don’t worry about these changes, though, the basic components of your logic system will remain even if the process undergo some changes.
Deciding to use a workflow engine is useful in many ways, such as the fact that it provides you with solid documentation for your business process meaning that a new developer will be able to understand it just by looking at it rather than having to go through endless lines of code to even begin understanding it. Of course you’re able to document processes independently by hand, though it’s less likely they’ll be kept updated after a few releases.
Sure, at first, workflow engines will make software a tad bit more complicated and debuggers less easy to use – it adds moving parts and additional elements to deploy. However, when working with larger projects – with big, complicated processes – the newly added complexity gets unimportant when compared to the benefits of having an actual detailed process rather than just implied and distributed throughout your code.
Advantages of using a workflow engine in Software Development:
For many of those larger and complex projects, getting your actual workflow mapped and easier to visualize and execute through a workflow engine simplifies documenting and developer onboarding, as well as making the maintenance process much easier.
Here are a few reasons why using a workflow engine can be beneficial to your software development activities:
- No need for recompiling – With your rules kept as data instead of code, you won’t have to recompile, every time you need to test changes, change at run time, etc. (this isn’t much of an advantage in case you didn’t have to recompile in the first place, though);
- Rules kept as data – Keeping your rules as data will allow for tools to be written just for visualization and data changing;
- Easier rule editing – You’ll be able to reasonably expect users to edit the rules. They’ll be able to change and “play” with them interactively in ways that aren’t quite possible when having a programmer write code for them;
- Meta-programming made easier – Keeping your rules as data will also allows for easier meta-programming more easily – you’ll be able to write code to analyze the data and further on insert more in some complex way.
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