Importance of Visual Elements in Workflows

So much of our daily lives is consumed with viewing of screens, phones, and TVs, with a continuum of images thrown at us. As advertisers have known for many years, a picture or image can often communicate a concept or idea better, and much faster, than a lot of words. Why is it then that much of business communication and decision-making is still essentially the exchange of written and spoken words? Certainly, words can have much more granular meaning and can pose questions and positions that are difficult to convey with pictures, but the combination of words and images can be both powerful and effective, and in a business sense more efficient.

Pictures Were Hard, Not Now

Understandably, including pictures or video in the decision-making process was difficult, both from an acquisition and a distribution standpoint, in prior years. Even when we had a camera, getting multiple versions to appropriate people was not easy. But the world has changed and everyone, and I mean everyone, carries a camera on them and knows how to use it. At no cost, we can get pictures of work sites, machinery on the floor, buildings and landscapes, assemblies and parts, customers and vendors and so much more.

Better yet, capturing audio and video is just as easy. Adding sound and movement to our pictures adds another level of communication. Distribution of pictures and video is similarly as easy. Attaching pictures and audio to emails and texts is useful. But even better, attaching these files to actual drawings and job instructions is more helpful.

The Benefits of Video and Audio

Many workflows, if not most, include drawings, operating manuals, process charts, routers, approval sheets, etc. These document-centric workflows can all benefit from the addition of photos, video and audio. The benefits of using these media include:

  • Drawings are two dimensional and identifying exact locations and other extenuating circumstances, like hanging lights or turning radii, is hard to communicate; even 3D models are only as good as the granularity of the drawings and the ability to represent the model.
  • An arrow pointing to a part, area, issue of concern, etc. is not as definitive as one that includes an audio or video explanation.
  • Trying to describe or define an issue or problem in words is not easy – trying to explain how to fix a problem or what steps need to be taken next is even harder. A picture or video can be clear and explicit.
  • Spoken words are less likely to be misinterpreted than written words (experts note that intonation, inflection, and even body language add information in any communication).
  • Adding color and shading to a message can offer improved insight and give better visual clues to changes being questioned or requested.
  • Audio and video audit trails, in addition to text-based audit trails, create full depictions of what occurred and for what reasons.

In general, the addition of photos, video, and audio to words improves the message and ultimately the decision-making process. The costs, which were significantly higher even just 10 years ago, are no longer an obstacle.

So Why Are We Not Utilizing Them

Surprisingly, very few organizations have embraced the inclusion of photos, video, and audio into their key workflows, excluding printed pictures of parts, assemblies, buildings, roadways, etc. that have been around for a while. However, high resolution picture files, video files, and audio files, however, require viewing applications that many organizations just haven’t purchased or supplied to their employees. Though standard operating systems, such as Windows and Mac, now provide simplistic software for viewing.

More elaborate workflow related applications, however, have not been able to handle these file types and have purposely not including these options. Add to this that individuals did not have easy photo and audio capabilities at their disposal until five to eight years ago and you understand why these media have been orphaned.

Now Is The Time To Add Media Files

A good portion of today’s workforce have grown up with smartphones and tablets and are not only familiar with taking pictures and video but prefer these media to the written word (e.g., look at the success and usage of Youtube for everything from how-tos, to entertainment, to political expression). Many operations systems are now taking advantage of this, permitting users to upload, tag, and distribute visual and audio media.

Given that the majority of the photos and video are being taken by tablets and smartphones this requires the workflow applications to provide mobile device access (which many vendors are just now developing). But more than just a friendly mobile app, the system should adequately integrate the device’s camera and audio recorder. This means allowing users to initiate and save photos, video, and audio from within the app and not requiring the user to search through a photo album or iCloud for the picture.

What’s Next

We are already starting to see workflow applications that are integrating augmented reality (AR) capability, taking simple photos and turning them into 3D model-like visuals. Certainly, allowing users to “walk through walls” or “overlay changes” right into the view. The days of real-time workflow management using 3D holograms is not that far away and will be most interesting.

Scott Brandt, President and CEO, eQuorum, a leader in cloud document management technology