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Orkes Case study

Collective Transforms its Business Automation Through Orkes Conductor

Weeks after selecting Orkes Conductor hosted on Orkes Cloud, Collective could scale and automate many critical business workflows.

Collective, the San Francisco-based back-office platform designed for Businesses-of-One, has a singular mission: to help solopreneurs focus on their passion, not their paperwork. Collective’s technology platform and team of trusted advisors care for everything a solopreneur needs to establish their self-employed small business. That includes the necessary details to incorporate their business, manage their books, and do their taxes and provide access to a knowledgeable and prosperous community.
Building a scalable tax and bookkeeping services business is a complex undertaking. Success demanded creating a technology stack that would automate as many workflows as possible and provide flexibility and resiliency. Ultimately, to build the reliable and scalable distributed applications it needed, Collective turned to Orkes Conductor, delivered via Orkes Cloud. In the process, Collective transformed its tech stack from one that depended upon substantial manual assistance and inefficient workflows to a tech stack built on streamlined and automated workflows.


Digital Native Workforce Services

Business Problem

Automate complex workflows associated with opening and managing solo-businesses

Why Collective Chose Orkes Cloud

  • Competing options, such as Cadence, proved to be too inflexible for Collective’s needs.
  • Orkes Cloud enables Collective to orchestrate their microservices at scale reliably.
  • Orkes Cloud provides rapid time to value.
  • Orkes Cloud enables the Collective team to focus on building their business, not orchestration.

Collective Builds a New Tech Stack

Establishing a solo business isn’t as simple as it may initially seem. There are considerable details that must be first resolved. For instance, based on the state and city location, there may (or may not) be business licenses and local taxes that must be accounted for and paid. While some business types, such as real estate and financial services, may require industry-specific licenses, others, such as code development or creative services, do not. There’s also the need to establish health insurance, and retirement plans and obtain the necessary federal employer ID number. Not to mention the endless paperwork and bookkeeping required.
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“When it comes to becoming a solopreneur, understanding the specific items required in each circumstance requires a very detailed workflow,” explains Chintan Shah, VP of engineering at Collective.
– Chintan Shah, VP of engineering at Collective
And creating most of these processes, or workflows, that drive Collective’s business was accomplished manually until recently. As customers entered their information within the Collective webpage, Collective’s expert staff would help guide the process based on the type of business and its location. This was managed by a manual step-by-step task list, and what steps were required for each business type were largely guided out of spreadsheets, explains Shah.
To build both internal and external facing applications, the Collective team chose the user interface JavaScript library React hosted on the Python web development framework Django. Using this stack, the Collective development team created a detailed dashboard view that enables their customers to get insights into their business financial health. However, the internal document management workflows and data transfer into Collective’s internal systems remained largely manual. This caused considerable back and forth as Collective’s experts verified their customer’s information and ensured everything was properly in place.
“The world of accounting tax payroll is very workflow-driven, where there's a specific step-by-step process depending on individual circumstances,” Shah adds. Further, regarding taxes and bookkeeping, Collective’s customers would need support through workflows recurring monthly, quarterly, and yearly.
To gather and manage that customer information, Collective chose the communication platform Front, cloud storage services, and accounting software designed for solopreneurs. However, as Collective’s business grew, it needed a sustainable and scalable way to automate these process workflows. “One of the primary objectives for me was to develop an architecture that would get Collective on a path to successful automation,” says Shah.
A high level of workflow automation would not only benefit their customers with swifter and streamlined services, but it would also help Collective to improve its margins and grow more profitably. “The idea was always to grow like a tech company and automate as many step-by-step processes as possible to make it as self-sufficient for our customers as possible. This would help us serve our customers more quickly, and our staff experts can then focus on more complex customer requests and questions,” explains Shah.

The search for the right workflow orchestration engine

Over time, the Collective IT team attempted several ways to improve their workflows. They tried Salesforce but found that it couldn’t properly scale the workflows to the level the Collective development team sought. Collective's operational processes have alternating steps between data processing with applications and experts reviewing the steps manually. This meant that not only do we need a workflow engine, but one that can be used to create versions of workflows as we reduce the handling time on the manual steps by automating them fully or to a large extent.
A workflow engine enables organizations to automate and manage complex workflows, making deploying, running, and managing business processes easier. Organizations can create and run complex workflows with the right workflow engine, such as multiple steps, dependencies, and failure-handling mechanisms. A few workflow engines were initially considered, including Camunda, Cadence/Temporal, and Conductor.
Cadence/Temporal was the first to be eliminated from their list of possibilities. During Shah’s time as an engineering leader at Uber, Shah became familiar with Cadence and realized it wouldn’t suffice for Collective’s specific needs.
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“Because of very fundamental architectural design decisions within Cadence, it would not have been flexible enough for our needs,”
To ensure the ultimate choice of workflow engine was based on real-world conditions, the Collective team created two proof-of-concept environments to test the remaining workflow engines under consideration: Conductor and Camunda. With one environment setup in Conductor and the second in Camunda, the team created a prototype workflow for an actual business workflow they sought to eventually use in production. Shah said each team spent about two weeks creating the prototype workflow. “We didn’t want just to see which workflow worked; we wanted to identify the best orchestration engine for us,” Shah explains.
The best orchestration engine proved to be Orkes Conductor, delivered via the Orkes Cloud. Orkes Cloud delivers Conductor with added enterprise-grade features as a secure, highly performant hosted service. Orkes Cloud enables developers to build applications quickly without worrying about resiliency or scale.
Today, organizations, from startups to Fortune 100 organizations, depend on Orkes Conductor to help build and manage their mission-critical systems.
The decision to move to the Orkes Conductor proved to be straightforward. Shah explains that Collective ultimately selected Conductor on Orkes Cloud because it enables them to reliably orchestrate their business processes at scale. Because Conductor is fully hosted by Orkes, the Collective team has much less to worry about. Orkes Cloud handles Conductor installation, tuning, patching, and managing their Conductor clusters. The enterprise-ready Orkes Cloud goes beyond the open-source edition by providing such features as role-based access control and single sign-on, making it straightforward to implement in any environment securely.

Orkes Conductor hosted on Orkes Cloud enables business transformation

“Orkes Conductor made a huge difference for us,” Shah adds. “If we tried to deploy and host Conductor ourselves, it would have taken a significant investment in staff resources to do it right,” he says. Shah estimates that investment would likely have required three full-time engineers to support Conductor. “We can focus on building Conductor workflows and our deploy to build to the production cycle,” Shah adds.
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“Conductor is designed to be flexible and built specifically for event orchestration. This means our workflows are flexible, scalable, and maintainable,”
The team appreciated the scale and swift time to value Orkes Conductor enabled. “The scale is not just in terms of the sheer number of customers we can manage, but also the amount of customization that Orkes Conductor enables for us,” he says. With just one full-time developer focused on Orkes Conductor, Collective could move from their proof-of-concept Orkes Conductor environment to production within two and a half months.
Finally, the Collective team appreciates the environmental and operational insights they can gather from Orkes Conductor. The unit can now see how long each customer process takes. “This was eye-opening for us. This gave us many opportunities for the operations teams to go and look at the possible improvements they can make in the process itself because of the data Orkes Conductor made available,” says Shah.
Today, Collective is on track to implement all of its workflows, including customer-facing ones, within Orkes Conductor. Examples include how Collective conducts LLC registrations and forms S-Corporations. As Shah explains, prior to turning to Orkes Conductor hosted on Orkes Cloud, the team had been launching services in one state at a time. The process of building the workflows took months. While the team had completed manually building these workflows in 13 states, it wasn’t a sustainable process. “By using Conductor, it cut down our time to launch our service nationwide significantly, and we were able to launch in 37 states in one shot,” Shah explains.
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“Thanks to Orkes Conductor, we can continue to focus on building our workflows. And because it’s all hosted in Orkes Cloud, we don’t have to think about building and maintaining the orchestration engine ourselves. We can focus on creating an exceptional customer experience and optimizing our margins,”