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Business-Driven Architect

Brenda Michelson

Force.com + Visual Process Manager = Vanilla Layer Cake Theory

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Salesforce.com just added a powerful new tool to its Force.com development platform, a Visual Process Manager:

“The Visual Process Manager brings the power of Cloud Computing to Business Process Apps. Now you can visually draw any business process and instantly deploy it in the cloud with no code, no software and no infrastructure.  The Visual Process Manager helps companies easily automate specific business process like call center scripting, sales quotes, and new employee on boarding.? 

According to a post on TechCrunch:

“The technology powering the Visual Process Manager is based on technology acquired from Informavores, call scripting startup Salesforce bought last year.

The Manager has several different components. The Process Designer essentially helps businesses sketch out applications with established set forms, questions, and choices, and logic components, like task assignments, decision trees, and approval processes. These components can be dragged and dropped into a visual process design diagram/ The Process Wizard Builder enables companies to design a “wizard? to help walk end-users, step-by-step, through their business process. The Process Simulator lets customers test out and review processes before they are deployed. And lastly, the real-time process engine will run all of a company’s sophisticated processes and provides realtime scalability.?

The Visual Process Manager introduction gets a bit deeper on functionality.  [emphasis is mine]:

Using our cloud-based workflow software solution, you can specify the retrieval, creation, update, or deletion of any object in a salesforce.com application or any Force.com object (including custom objects). You can also call any Force.com API. In practice, this functionality means that sales and service agents can work with simple, easy-to-follow scripts—while underneath, embedded business rules and salesforce.com data drive what the agent sees and automatically update CRM records. These are textbook examples of successful workflow software applications.

After you’ve optimized a specific process using the Visual Process Manager workflow software tool and the process is running inside your salesforce.com application, operations become much more efficient. The newly automated workflow carries out all the administration work behind the scenes. It may control the interaction of an agent in a call center or a customer on a Web site, as it silently interacts with other systems, processes, and Web services to deliver the required actions.

Because our workflow software tool is designed with integration in mind, you can link to databases, dialers, and IVRs; initiate workflows; control exceptional events or surge conditions; and handle the “stop and save? process required to manage escalations and call transfers. All in all, our workflow software frees sales reps and support agents from administrative grunt work, quickly giving them the situation-specific information they need for effective selling and top-notch customer service.?

As I read about Visual Process Manager, I was reminded of my Vanilla Layer Cake Theory paper from 2005. 

“There are classic rules of thumb used in buy/build decisions. Buy in situations of parity. Build for competitive advantage/differentiation. In a buy scenario, you willingly cede control of the end product (functionality, architecture, technology) for the promise of a lower price tag, ease of implementation, and quicker time to market. For success, you must actually cede that control—in other words, no modifications. But, that’s not always realistic. So, how can you reap the advantages of a buy, while providing a solution that actually fits your business (modifications and extensions), without getting trapped? Think Vanilla Layer Cake.?

An excerpt published on elemental links, November 2005:

“The vanilla layer cake theory is simple. Do vanilla (out-of-the-box) installations of all new application packages. Then, customize and extend the application functionality using abstraction layers, rather than in the application package itself.

[Click on picture to enlarge]


In essence, the application package installation performs the role of a provider in a service-oriented architecture. In some ways, the application package is more valuable for its building blocks, than how the vendor assembled it.

The abstraction layers implement your business architecture, in the form of an enterprise information model, business services, business scenario composition (process, events, service orchestration), and user interaction (portal, user interface, unified in-box).?

Of course in the SaaS world of Salesforce and Force.com, you can skip the “Do vanilla (out-of-the-box) installations of all new application packages? step, and proceed right to “customize and extend the application functionality using abstraction layers?.  Now, that’s intriguing… 

For those with a sense of nostalgia, you can read the entire Vanilla Layer Cake Theory on ebizQ.  Otherwise, dig in at Salesforce.com.


[Cross-posted from Elemental Cloud Computing].

Brenda Michelson, Principal of Elemental Links, shares her view on architectural strategies, technology trends, business, and relevance.

Brenda Michelson

Brenda Michelson is the principal of Elemental Links an advisory & consulting practice focused on business-technology capabilities that increase business visibility and responsiveness. Follow Brenda on Twitter.


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