Workflow. Optimization v Cannibalization

Workflow based products strive their best to help users complete the workflow. Embedded in this rather simplistic statement is the basic premise of selecting the user interaction, functionality and features of the workflow product, which can be as much a device as an application. For example,

Microsoft Word features the functionality to complete the workflow of sending out the document as e-mail without having to exit the application and fire up the e-mail client.

Take a closer look at business handheld-telephone devices. Almost all (I am chained – literally – to the Blackberry) provide functionality of saving received-call numbers, making notes during a call, checking e-mail archives and such other workflow completion features within the device. For a product manager to design the application with the intention to close the workflow loop, she must understand what the workflow is. And more importantly, what part of the upstream and downstream workflow does the application (or device) support.

This is where I cannot understand digital cameras – more specifically why mobile telephones are trying to become cameras, thereby tying users down to telecom service providers. It is possible today to take a picture using a mobile telephone and e-mail/MMS that using pipes provided by the telecom company. The charges for doing this is exorbitant because the pipes are optimize for voice, not so much for data. Also, it stumps me why users would repeatedly perform such battery gulping acts on their phones, leaving them vulnerable to a situation where a drained battery stares down when an SOS call must be made.

Digital cameras, on the other hand, suffer from the stark absence of workflow completion. We all take pictures and then transfer them to our PC/Mac using a cable and then e-mail them to friend and family or upload them to online albums. This begs the question – why does the phone attempt to complete a resource draining operation that I am not even sure is the workflow while the camera doesn’t. Building Wi-Fi capabilities in the camera would not only allow as-it-happens photo sharing at a cheaper price but will also pave the way for better photo journalism. No – I am not asking digital cameras to become PDAs.

Workflow optimization and workflow cannibalization is very thin line and it is important for Product Managers to understand both.

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