Rather than vying for “Center of the Universe,” a master orchestrator coordinates other platforms.

What it Really Means to be a Master Orchestrator

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece that lays out how an orchestrator differs from a platform and described Nintex, a workflow and content automation company, as a “master orchestrator.” In the abstract, I get the role, but I wanted to understand it more deeply.

In music, orchestrators put musical voices together so they sound right. An orchestrator gets a version of a piece — let’s say, for guitar and sax — and rewrites it for a full symphony, French horns and all. Deciding which notes the horns play is part of an orchestrator’s job.

A platform is by definition solid, supportive, and unmoving, like a stage for a play. It’s reliable, something you can count on, something that you put other, sometimes heavy, things on.

It’s almost Zen-like that strengths are weaknesses and vice versa. A platform’s substance is also its inertia. An orchestrator’s fine touch is also its nimbleness.

Trying to probe on what basis Nintex styles itself a master orchestrator, I spoke to one of its customers at some length, and he was able to illustrate what distinguishes the company’s role from that of a platform.

Rob Fletcher, group head of Information and Communications Technology at GreenSquare Group in Chippenham, U.K., found Nintex an ideal fit for his particular problem.

GreenSquare bills itself as a “housing company,” and that pretty well describes it. The company does residential construction, operates rental properties, and builds housing for rental or sale. The company owns 13,000 units outright, makes most of its money on rental income, and builds 250–300 new units each year through its construction subsidiary. Its revenue run rate is around £85 million (~$110 million).

As Fletcher put it, the company employs people in three areas: back-office staff, people who look after properties, and people who look after people. Not long ago, the company was trying to integrate a number of systems. The people who look after properties and people, 60% of the workforce, are often in the field. GreenSquare needed some way to tie its back-office functions to mobile applications, which generate lots of data that must update backend databases quickly and must also be able to get backend data to the field speedily and in a useful format.

The company’s main enterprise-resource planning application comes from a company called Orchard Information Systems, based in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK. Orchard works specifically in an area called “social housing,” which exactly fits GreenSquare’s mandate. The software house supplies programs and databases for housing, financial, and asset management as well as other related modules.

GreenSquare uses a number of Microsoft products, including SharePoint, Office 365, and Azure. In addition, the company has deployed DocuSign for signing contracts digitally and securely.

The mobile apps, which are delivered to Android devices (predominantly Samsung smartphones) need to work in offline mode because cell signals aren’t always reliable in rural areas like Ashton Keynes or Minety Lower Moor. Nintex addressed the mobile requirement well, and none of the other suppliers’ products was able to work offline. Fletcher explained that most enterprise software, which often assumes solid connections between clients and corporate databases, doesn’t handle mobile well. When cell signal is insufficient, Nintex buffers the “outbox,” transmitting (and receiving) when the signal improves.

Fletcher, who admitted that Microsoft is catching up to Nintex (for example, having recently augmented SharePoint with offline mode, improved workflow, and digital forms), still likes the smooth way Nintex integrates others’ offerings. Rather than competitors, he sees Microsoft and Nintex “complementary” and plans to continue using both.

Then, he touched on the “master orchestrator” role. “Nintex has better connectors than others,” he noted, describing the DocuSign integration as “deep and rich … not just a dirty data dump.” He plunged to a lower level still to illustrate the “strong bi-directional integration,” noting how the “correct metadata is passed into DocuSign.” Every minute (or other arbitrary interval), Nintex can poll DocuSign’s API to get envelope (a DocuSign data structure) status, using an “envelope ID” number and “envelope status.” Thus, when a resident or employee signs a document and DocuSign updates its status, this information is passed rapidly to Nintex, which then updates its workflow, moving on to the next task and depositing the signed document into SharePoint.

This “deep and strong integration” has made Fletcher a fan of the Nintex master orchestrator.