On Monday, November 9, Adobe announced that the company had reached a definitive agreement to acquire Workfront, the enterprise work management platform, for $1.5 billion.

According to the press release, Workfront CEO Alex Shootman will lead the Workfront team and report into Anil Chakravarthy, executive vice president and general manager, Digital Experience Business and Worldwide Field Operations, once the deal closes. That’s expected to happen within the first quarter of Adobe’s 2021 fiscal year, which starts December 1, 2020.

Adobe and Workfront had a long-standing partnership prior to the acquisition. That relationship includes APIs that connect Workfront to Adobe Creative Cloud and Adobe Experience Cloud. Of Workfront’s more than 3,000 customers, over 1,000 are also Adobe customers. Workfront currently has one million users across those 3,000 customers.

Adobe + Workfront—A Better Way to Workflow?

Functional silos that stymie progress consistently top the list of roadblocks to marketing and engagement success. Adobe’s proposed acquisition of Workfront squarely takes aim at the internal silo walls that disrupt marketing operations. The move also adds some much-needed operational collaboration to Adobe’s suite of marketing tools, Experience Cloud.

But what happens beyond marketing? Adobe had made huge strides across Creative Cloud in facilitating collaboration and workflows across creative development, from design briefs to final outputs and beyond. The recent Adobe MAX virtual conference focused heavily on these new developments and how they help both hard-core creatives and the people on the front lines responsible for getting the right assets to the right places.

Will this functionality cement marketing as its own worst enemy by driving selective collaboration exclusively within marketing or will it bridge critical collaboration gaps across departments despite different work styles and structures? In an age when customer experience (CX) is not the exclusive domain of marketing, could this create unintentional isolation from other critical front-line collaborators or encourage a culture of CX as a team sport? Or, will it serve to blur the hard lines between roles, management and methodology and firmly plant the customer as the unwavering North Star for CX strategy and campaign execution? We'll be watching closely to see how ambitious Adobe’s vision for work proves to be outside of its marketing, commerce and creative footprint.  

The Allure of Workfront

Don’t call it “just” a workflow manager. While Workfront initially made a name as a project management and collaboration tool, it has increasingly become known as a work management platform. It orchestrates strategic planning, team alignment, creative collaboration and resource planning, focusing on the people doing the work and the ways in which they need and want to connect.

Users believe Workfront truly shines in aligning the complex workflows, processes and foundational work that goes into massive creative projects. That enables teams to work together to get assets out the door faster, more closely align to strategy, and land their efforts with greater impact. With an extensive library of out-of-the-box integrations, Workfront quickly positioned itself as the “effectiveness engine” for the modern marketing operational machine so critical to keeping digital business moving forward.

Workflow’s use case extensions have broadened over time, including the overarching management of digital transformation by helping technology teams to focus on the right projects to take on and the right decisions to make. As a result, IT teams, agency partners, and contractors work more effectively together to deliver the right projects, on time, and with greater impact for the business. In the end, although Workfront has remained dedicated to accelerating and demystifying the work of marketing, its true potential lies in the collaboration required to shape consistent customer experiences—and that reaches far beyond marketing.

Why This Matters for Adobe and Its Customers

Adobe has existed as two spheres of the marketing brain: the wild, unbridled creativity harnessed in Creative Cloud and the rapidly accelerating engine of customer engagement and connection in Experience Cloud. While the two sides of this cloud often connected and clearly influenced one another, workflows, governance of assets, and strategic planning have often failed to flow across the entirety of the creative-to-experience continuum. The addition of Workfront as the epicenter for work helps bridge the gap in planning, understanding and optimizing the entire lifecycle of digital experience from inception to optimization.

For Adobe, this fits the pattern of innovating on behalf of the marketing organization and being the champion for digital business. The work of marketing has distinct requirements and characteristics that set it apart from other types of work. As organizations become more attune to the reality that different types of work have different requirements, tools like Workfront that are intentionally developed to suit a distinct type of work or way of working become that much more important to success.

As recently introduced at Adobe Max, Creative Cloud has investigated, interrogated, and celebrated workflows that more freely bring creatives into a more data-rich strategic dialogue with marketers. Adobe has an opportunity with Workfront to further extend this connection between creatives and marketing execution. If this acquisition lives up to its potential, Adobe will strengthen workflows across Customer Experience Cloud and Adobe Experience Manager. We see this acquisition as a clear indication of Adobe’s desire to empower the engagement lifecycle by documenting progress and impact, aligning around strategy and success, and eliminating the vagaries of gut and instinct.

There’s Clear Upside for Workfront Customers

Workfront has faced some criticism for deficiencies in interface usability, its digital asset management (DAM) capabilities, and pricing. Current Workfront users will see a BIG improvement with access and increased connection to Adobe Experience Manager Assets, Adobe’s DAM solution. It is rich in functionality and, perhaps most interestingly for this acquisition, able to deliver tangible data into asset development, utilization, and engagement. In short, Workfront as part of Adobe gets better.

Bottom Line

We get excited about seeing a future where Sensei is unleashed for insights into rapid decision making, automated workflow updates, and perhaps, measurements around the impact and connection between effective work and effective engagement. Companies need to accelerate the pace at which this work gets done. The right tools can tackle the stagnation of decision making and the lag between ideation and iteration. And that could help unravel the cultural juggernauts that intensify the friction between creation, deployment, and measurement.

There’s tremendous potential in this acquisition, but we still have questions and concerns. Chief among them:

  • How does this fit into Adobe’s broader partnership strategy, especially relationships with Microsoft and ServiceNow?
  • What happens if Workfront stays siloed within Experience Cloud? Adobe’s track record on seamless integration of acquisitions has been hit or miss.
  • Most importantly, what does Adobe want to be when it grows up? Will the company use this opportunity to take the lead in redefining how the work of marketing and customer engagement are done across the board? Or will it focus on cozying up to its biggest partners and increasing its appeal as an acquisition candidate?