Adobe MAX - Workfront brings workflow automation to the tools that creatives use

Profile picture for user pwainewright By Phil Wainewright October 26, 2021 Audio mode
Workfront announcements tee up collaboration as a big theme at this week's Adobe MAX, bringing workflow automation into everyday creative and marketing tools

Workfront for Adobe XD screengrab from Adobe video
(screengrab from Adobe video)

As enterprise marketing teams race to deliver compelling content across multiple channels faster than ever, announcements ahead of today's Adobe MAX conference focus on helping to streamline the work of marketing teams by embedding automation in the tools that creative workers use every day. Building on Adobe's acquisition of work management vendor Workfront last year, these new integrations bring workflow automation and collaboration directly into Adobe Creative Cloud tools including PhotoShop and Adobe XD, as well as connecting into asset management in Adobe Experience Manager. Connecting work across teams is all the more important at a time when many organizations are adapting to hybrid working patterns. Richard Whitehead, Principal Product Marketing Manager at Adobe, says:

I think organizations have realized they need to mature [their digital teamwork] more quickly than maybe they did before, where everybody was sitting next to each other, and it is much more spread out.

Organizations [last year] quickly pivoted to what I call the crisis stack, and they brought in a lot of collaboration tools ... But then they quickly realized, it's not work tied to strategic initiatives. So how do I then take that strategy and tie it to the work that people are doing? But again, also not requiring them to hop between multiple systems to get work done?

Collaboration's a big theme at Adobe MAX

The announcements that rolled out yesterday tie Workfront more closely into various key Adobe products, teeing up collaboration as a big theme of this week's Adobe MAX virtual event:

  • Plugins to Adobe PhotoShop and Adobe XD, available now, bring Workfront directly into the tools creators use to create and edit digital assets. They can view tasks, issues and comments related to the project they're working on, allowing them to collaborate on digital proofing, reviews and approvals without ever having to leave the creative application. It also streamlines time logging and asset export to help track the flow of work between team members.
  • Integrations to Adobe Experience Manager Assets and Assets Essentials automate asset versioning and metadata updates to help keep creative assets in sync with projects while easing compliance and tracking. These integrations are available now to enterprise and new customers, with the Assets Essential integration rolling out to existing customers over the coming months.
  • Also available now, a new connector to Adobe Marketo Engage, the B2B marketing automation platform, integrates Workfront project management with downstream delivery of engagement campaigns.
  • Workfront has been brought into the realm of Adobe Identity Service, which manages user authentication and single sign-on to Adobe products. The services are available now to new Workfront and Assets Essential customers and will be generally available to all customers in the first half of 2022.

Workflow automation and 'the messy middle'

A phrase that has cropped up quite often in Adobe briefings on these announcements is "the messy middle," used to describe the various hand-offs, steps and processes between both internal and external stakeholders that characterize most marketing projects and campaigns. Many organizations still try to manage all of this in spreadsheets and email, but with the drive towards faster velocity and more dynamic personalization, those ad hoc arrangements aren't keeping up. Whitehead highlights three advantages of the Workfront approach in particular.

First of all, embedding the workflow automation in the tools that creative professionals already use eliminates the distraction of task switching to update progress or find out what needs doing next.

Secondly, having the assets that are created then automatically flow into the Digital Asset Manager (DAM) ensures that they are saved with the right context and reach the right channels of distribution.

Finally, there's the benefit of seeing how each piece of work ties into the broader strategy — a context that Workfront provides. He explains:

People do their best work — whether you're an executive or individual contributor — when you know your role, you know that it matters, and you're proud of your work ... While these integrations are important to not have to leave the system, imagine how wonderful it is to be able to see how, when I do get a particular task, I can ladder back in and I can see ... that it supports a bigger project, as opposed to just a one-off.

At many Workfront customers, that wider strategic landscape stretches beyond marketing into other functions, applications and projects across the organization. He elaborates:

What we announced here at MAX is more focused on that creative user. But of course, our overall vision is to bring together that work from wherever it may be happening. Because people do use Slack to do work. They do use email to do work. They do use Salesforce and other applications to do work. That needs to be pulled together in a way where that can be centralized into a single place — so you have context, you know the status of the work, you understand who's working on it. So that everybody from the senior level, who's setting those strategies, all the way down to the individual contributor, they're able to see, again, how that work is flowing, or the context between people, process and technology.

My take

Workfront is playing a surprisingly big role in announcements at Adobe MAX, a show that traditionally focuses on the creative tools in Adobe's product portfolio. But the rise of distributed teamwork in the past year-and-a-half, along with accelerating demand for more personalized digital marketing, is increasing the pressure on organizations to do a better job of managing marketing teamwork. As the recent acquisition of video collaboration platform demonstrates, that teamwork is increasingly happening within as well as around the creative process.

Inevitably, the focus this week is on teamwork within the creative and marketing function. But as we noted last year at the time of the acquisition, Workfront's reach expands beyond these functions and ultimately aims to co-ordinate project objectives with strategic goals at the enterprise level. While marketing teams provide an immediate harvest of low-hanging fruit for Workfront to target, it's good to see that wider strategic vision remains in place. Bringing order to that "messy middle" is just one step in a journey towards maturity in enterprise digital teamwork.