Citrix and VMware are all in on ‘workflow’ apps. So, what is a workflow app?

Workflow apps that help improve productivity on mobile devices (though useful on desktop, too).

Workflow apps seem to be gaining traction (more on this aspect later) in EUC—VMware has Mobile Flows and Citrix acquired Sapho in late 2018, and collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams can offer similar functionality.

The idea for this article came about because I recently covered the Intune Company Portal, and because Citrix has revealed more details about their plans for Sapho. Workflow apps might become a big thing, or they may not, but it’s worth making sure everyone understands what they are and what they offer.

What’s the fuss around workflow apps?

First, what are they? At the basic level, workflow apps are client apps that can connect to various business applications, allowing users to complete simple and repetitive tasks. Workflow apps can aggregate multiple tasks (involving different backend applications) into a single user interface or app, reducing the need for users to switch to other apps. They focus on quick interactions, so users might switch into normal, dedicated client apps for more complicated tasks.

Workflow apps can be freestanding apps, or workflow app functionality can be integrated into other apps, like email clients, digital workspace apps like Citrix Workspace and VMware Workspace ONE Intelligent Hub, or even collaboration platforms such as Slack and Microsoft Teams.

For example, with VMware’s Boxer email app, users might get an expense report approval request; instead of switching to Concur, the user will get a pop-up notification (via Mobile Flows, VMware’s take on this space) that allows them to quickly approve/deny the report without leaving Boxer. No need to switch to another app and log in, it’s just connected to the workflow app.

Thanks to all their connectors and integrations, you also get workflow app-like functionality within collaboration apps like Microsoft Teams and Slack. You might have used third-party integrations (like a Twitter feed, etc.) in either collaboration app before, and it’s the same concept. You complete a micro app interaction, like approving a request, right where you’re already working. Teams and Slack offer a decent variety of connectors to popular business apps. Slack has the most because it’s been around longer, plus it offers the ability to develop connectors to in-house apps. Teams is a little more limited (it’s only been out since 2017), but more connectors are added all the time.

How are VMware and Citrix using workflow apps?

VMware introduced Mobile Flows at VMworld 2017, though they showed it off as a proof of concept back at AirWatch Connect 2016. Currently, Mobile Flows is integrated within Boxer and has some limited functionality embedded in Workspace ONE Intelligent Hub. In Boxer, Mobile Flows can detect keywords in emails and pull up suggested workflows, like approving expense reports, time off requests, and more. Mobile Flows currently has nine pre-built connectors, though customers can developer their own.

In a video Brian Madden (the person) did with Johan van Amersfoort, he talks about how Mobile Flows came about because of an internal app VMware developed called vApprove that handled a lot of the same managerial workflows and worked with Concur, Jira, Workday, and others. (At 59:45 in this YouTube video.)

Citrix is currently playing catch up, snapping up Sapho out of the blue in mid-November. The $200 million price tag seems a little steep for a small company that had 20 customers, but it certainly signals Citrix’s belief in the product. In February, Citrix explained that they plan to incorporate Sapho into Citrix Workspace. They made it clear that it will work like workflow apps always have and plan to have connectors with well-known apps like Salesforce and ServiceNow, as well as in-house customer apps.

Final thoughts

Workflow apps appear to be gaining momentum in the EUC alongside digital workspace apps. However, it’s not clear how many people really use them yet. Mobile Flows has been around for a couple years and VMware keeps tweaking it, Slack and Teams have tons of third-party integrations, and now Citrix is putting $200 million on the line. (Let’s hope for the sake of the costs sunk by Citrix that workflow apps get accepted by users.)

Right now, workflow apps remain more of a nice-to-have feature than anything else until they mature. Current use cases remain limited, so we’re waiting to see what tasks developers determine can be pulled from popular business apps and implemented into workflow apps.

All that said, I’m a fan of them and will wait excitedly to see how VMware, Citrix, and others improve them.

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