The ins and outs of building workflow management systems with Camunda

calendar icon2021-01-18

In a world, where information flows more dynamically than ever, and any delay in information flow may turn out to be extremely costly, workflow automation is one of the top priorities for most businesses. Camunda BPM, a Java-based framework, is one of the most popular tools used to automate business processes, improve customer experience, and boost business agility.

Released in 2013 to address the ever-growing need for an effective workflow management system, Camunda has quickly gained popularity, working with such well-known companies as Zalando, NASA, Universal Music, T-Mobile, Lufthansa Technik, 24 Hour Fitness, and Royal Bank of Scotland.

With its end-to-end orchestration and open architecture, Camunda BPM is developer-friendly and acts as a bridge between business and IT, combining technological innovation with easy-to-navigate technical infrastructure. How to build a workflow-based application on Camunda, optimize your business processes, and use technology to your advantage? Step by step, we will go through different business process automation use cases, discuss workflow system features, and explore the secrets of the Camunda workflow management system.

Application workflow software in action: Zalando’s journey with Camunda BPM

Zalando, Europe’s largest online platform for fashion, started using Camunda BPM in 2014 to deploy a high availability runtime environment, implement effective business process management solutions, and develop strategies for processing high amounts of order data. In Zalando’s case, Camunda is used to improve the execution of customer orders, for example, creating accounting data, communicating with payment service providers, and sending order confirmations.

Since the platform has an active base of over 16 million customers, the effective automation of workflow was necessary for the company to scale. The order-processing procedures implemented by Zalando were complicated, and so when the company’s initial attempts of implementing self-developed automation processes did not bring the desired results, they decided to implement Camunda BPM mainly because of its simple configurability, technical scalability, and ease of embedding the tool into the existing infrastructure.

Camunda is Java-oriented, which makes it an ideal solution for many programmers, and an unpleasant prospect for others. In Zalando’s case, Camunda helped the company to match their visions with their technical reality, as application workflow software automated their processes and allowed for synchronous processing of orders at the shop checkouts. Such improvements enabled the platform to scale faster and better. After all, the bigger the platform, the more expensive it is to optimize it for further development. With Camunda’s help, Zalando can improve all business processes on a regular basis.

Our experience with building Camunda workflow for Onyx One — contractor management system

How does the process of implementing the Camunda solution look like in practice? Our client Onyx One was looking for an effective workflow management solution, stumbled upon Camunda, and decided it might be right for the company’s needs.

Onyx One provides contractor management software to facilitate easy and smooth cooperation between clients and contractors in the industry.

Their services help safety managers to comply with welfare law as well as streamline and automate safety procedures, allow project managers to improve communication with contractors, and make it easier for contractors to manage data for multiple clients. Onyx One needed a powerful solution that would handle the company’s complex business processes and Camunda perfectly fit the description.

When we started working with them, we used Camunda as the workflow engine, deciding that user experience would be optimal if users did not have to use the frontend at all. To do so, we only used BPMN processes and our own UI, which is beneficial for the client, as, in such a configuration, Camunda can be potentially replaced with something else in the future if necessary. As Camunda’s API and documentation are programmer-friendly, the entire process of implementing the solution was smooth for our team.

Since our client’s modeled processes were unique and complex, they often engaged many people (users tasks) and our challenge was to optimize their workflow for maximum efficiency. How did we achieve our desired results? We made everything extremely customizable through highly configurable user-defined forms with custom controls, conditional validation, and conditional display.

The result was a powerful form builder, which automated and streamlined Onyx One’s workflow. The solution is intuitive and lightweight enough to be used in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, fuel, and manufacturing industry.

The pros and cons of combining Camunda with custom UI

The list of benefits connected to Camunda implementation is long, but it is worth looking at the list of potential disadvantages before we jump into the Camunda-powered world.

Advantages of Camunda with custom UI

  1. Camunda can be used for almost everything thanks to its multi-purpose logic, which can be further customized according to our own needs
  2. It is possible to create special “view modes” depending on an industry, like kanban board for processes
  3. User Interface is highly customizable, which improves general User Experience:
  • custom controls, like speech notes (speech to text), are easy to implement
  • you can use already existing solutions to build forms, like uniforms.tools
  • creating a mobile app is an option
  • implementing a bot (for example a messenger bot) is also possible

Disadvantages of Camunda with custom UI

  • High customizability comes at a price — it is expensive and time-consuming to take advantage of Camunda’s full potential
  • The number of required interactions with API cannot be compromised or lowered, which may lead to performance problems and requires special attention
  • It is a huge Java-based application, so the costs and efforts related to hosting and maintenance are considerably high

The short guide on Camunda’s dos and don'ts

What should you do to make the best out of the Camunda workflow management system?

Here are a few dos and don'ts to guide you on your Camunda journey!

Dont's…

  • keep too many variables in your processes — it may negatively impact your performance!
  • create long-lived processes: Camunda prefers short-lived processes, and it is designed to work best when used for actions, which can be quickly completed
  • underestimate the importance of good API

Do…

  • analyze what are your businesses needs and how Camunda could address them
  • consider if your needs can be met with a Lightweight Camunda alternative
  • treat Camunda as a basic workflow engine, so you can easily swap it for something different in the future, if necessary

Is Camunda workflow management right for your business?

If you are wondering if Camunda workflow management is right for your business, you need to consider your business needs and the types of customers you serve. In our experience, it is a good fit for companies, which need to get their prototype fast and at a low price, because it does not require them to create everything from scratch and build their own WorkFlow engine. For our collaboration with Onyx One, we used different technologies: Camunda, Node.js, TypeScript, GraphQL, and Semantic UI, and the end result was a powerful form builder. There are different Workflow Engine solutions available on the market, so it is possible to achieve similar results with different tools. Ultimately, it all boils down to our industry, vision, needs, and budget.

All things considered, many market leaders have used Camunda-based workflow management systems, and Camunda’s highly customizable nature definitely is one of the reasons why it gained such enormous popularity in just a few years. With our vast experience in creating powerful solutions for companies all around the world, we can assure you that Camunda is well full of possibilities, provided that its nature corresponds to your company’s needs. If you want to start your Camunda adventures, feel free to reach out to us at info@vazco.eu!

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Michał Zacher

Michał Zacher

CEO at Vazco

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