Workflow engines are a type of business process management (BPM) tool. As the name implies, these engines help manage business processes. These tools may sound expensive, but don't think that you're stuck paying a subscription or license fee.
Here's a look at how these engines work, why you should use one, and an overview of the top five open source choices, along with the advantages and limitations each one brings to the table.
Open source workflow engines play a crucial role in business process management.
Workflow engines allow businesses to achieve easy process management through consistent design and modeling.
These engines also fuel collaboration, reporting, and other important practices.
Most workflow engines have optimization and measurement tools built-in, which boost efficiency and help businesses break up silos.
Using a workflow engine, businesses can develop process-driven applications with ease.
The right workflow engine will help businesses gain perspective on their workflow, which in turn allows them to cut back on human error, increase efficiency, and improve communication across teams.
Additional advantages include better compliance and audit tracking, more accurate reporting, increased product and process quality, and enhanced strategy and planning.
Given the importance of a workflow engine, choosing the best open source option can be intimidating.
To follow is a thorough review of the top five open source workflow engines on the market, along with an overview of the pros and cons of each.
Bonitasoft BPM stands out for its long list of capabilities.
As an open source application, this workflow engine helps users build applications that are engaging and personalized, and users can update those apps in real time.
Inside Bonitasoft BPM, you'll find a modeling and development environment based in Eclipse, along with a drag-and-drop design based in the web.
You'll also discover an orchestration engine based in Java that's both powerful and scalable.
Bonitasoft BPM also comes complete with tools for social collaboration, a web portal for internal teams, video tutorials, and free webinars for all BPM users.
According to TrustRadius, nearly 40 percent of Bonita's users are mid-sized companies with up to 1,000 employees and they value the platform for its easy tools, built-in integrations, and user-friendly adjustments.
However, Bonita does not have a mobile app. Additionally, complex document management isn't always easy in Bonita.
So, while the cons list is short, a business could certainly see these major challenges harming functionality.
If you're looking for a business process mapping tool, Bizagi Modeler is a free solution that fits the bill.
Modeler falls under the large Bizagi umbrella, dubbed the Digital Business Platform, which also features the Bizagi Engine and Bizagi Studio.
So, you can confidently pick and choose which of these tools your business wants to use, knowing that they will integrate seamlessly with one another.
Bizagi Modeler, Engine, and Studio are all free to download and use, too, but you will pay if you choose to use Bizagi Engine to deploy your automation solution.
Within Bizagi Modeler, which is always free to use, teams can create workflow diagrams, optimize processes, view extensive tutorials, and publish processes to multiple platforms, including Word, PDF, Wiki, and Excel.
Most businesses will love that Bizagi Modeler is fully accessible using a cloud portal, which can centralize efforts.
Teams can simulate processes, view past revisions, track activity, and more.
As a market of Bizagi's capabilities, over 42 percent of users on TrustRadius are enterprises with more than 1,000 employees.
The only downside is that you will need to upgrade to Studio or Engine down the line if you'd like to develop process apps or executed automated processes.
Yet another popular of the open source workflow engines and BPM suite is ProcessMaker, which is an open source platform that helps teams cut back on inefficiency through workflow automation and optimization.
The drag-and-drop designer is extremely user friendly, while the low-code design is compliant with BPMN 2.0, highly scalable, and incredibly resilient.
If you'd like to upgrade the functionality of ProcessMaker, you can move from the free version to the enterprise-grade version. The upgrade provides businesses with countless connectors and the flexibility to choose between plans.
Whether you upgrade to a paid plan or not, users complement the intuitive interface, real-time tracking, and customizable dashboards.
The biggest complaints from ProcessMaker users are actually very granular as the overall functionality and reliability of the software leave little to be desired.
Negative user comments usually refer to the mobile app, which some say can become buggy when dealing with very complex workflows.
Others feel the drag-and-drop designer is not yet mature enough to handle very advanced workflows, although users have the option to code things manually if they find that to be the case.
Apache Airflow is one of these open source workflow engines that makes creating, monitoring, and managing your business's workflows easy.
This engine helps automate data flow while supporting scheduling and programming functions.
Airflow was built on four principles, which translate into the platform's biggest features. Those principles are dynamic, elegant, extensible, and scalable.
Part of what makes these things possible is Airflow's use of Directed Acyclic Graphs (DAGs).
In Airflow, nodes direct the movement of data. Typically, the output of one node, or "task," represents the input into another node.
The acyclic nature of Airflow means data cannot flow backward. In practice, this means a node has to be completed for the workflow to complete, or it must be halted and the workflow restarted for all tasks to complete.
The DAGs and dynamic pipeline creation help ensure smooth processes. This smoothness is continued with the help of a rich user interface that's easy to use.
The workflows are effortlessly extensible thanks to user-created operators and variables. Lastly, easy integrations and endless scalability can be achieved thanks to Apache's careful platform design.
Like all Apache products, the Airflow engine is backed by incredible customer support. You'll also find a host of resources and tutorials to help you hit the ground running and avoid delays.
Whereas Apache Airflow is great for regular workflow creation, Apache created the open source Taverna engine to cater to more scientific workflows.
The Taverna suite includes the engine, workbench, and server, which have been designed to work seamlessly together.
As a whole, the Taverna suite supports scientists effortlessly build complex workflows and perform analysis on them, even if they don't have advanced computing knowledge or an abundance of development resources.
Taverna allows data to be pulled from any number of public and private sources.
The platform also has specific features that make it ideal for a wide range of fields, including medicine, sports analytics, and geography.
Since the workflow is entirely platform-independent, teams can use any operating system to interact with it.
Additional features include command-line execution, remote access, web browser accessibility, secure authentication, monitoring tools, and workflow optimization.
Perhaps the biggest limitation of Taverna is that it is targeted at the scientific community.
For those with less than scientific workflows, Taverna may not be the best option sheerly because of the target audience it has been designed to accommodate.
With that said, if you have a need for a scientific workflow engine, Taverna should be at the top of your list.
Ultimately, choosing a workflow engine comes down to your business' size, budget, and needs. While plenty of open source workflow engines exist, it's also easy to feel pressured to upgrade to a paid plan, even if you start out with a free version.
For most companies, the best advice is to explore each workflow engine in depth before you commit to any software choice.
Once you narrow down your options to two-three engines, it's best to get your team involved to get their feedback on the right way forward.
If you're thinking about a paid solution, make sure you try the free version first before paying for any upgrades.
Even with all of these best practices in mind, selecting the workflow engine that's right for your needs can be tough.
Fortunately, the Adservio team works with companies every day who are facing the same decision-making difficulty that you are facing.
Get in touch to help you experience the growth of your organization by utilizing the best Workflow Engines solution out there.