Using SharePoint for workflow management
While we’re all waiting to see what SharePoint 2016 looks like, I’ve come across a question that will become more common as organisations extend the use of SharePoint into new areas such as workflow management.
The question is, when using SharePoint for workflow management, which workflow tools work best in the development environment? There are a number of options available, each with their own advantages and disadvantages that can impact the overall effectiveness of the final solution.
I reviewed the following four options for developing workflow applications:
Historically the native workflow functionality provided by SharePoint has been limited. This limited functionality has been one of the drivers for the development of third party workflow products.
With the introduction of SharePoint2010 and SharePoint2013, Microsoft has made significant improvements to the workflow features of these products, such that an organisation’s workflow requirements may now be met without the need to integrate with third party products. Because of the ability to implement workflow functionality without the need to integrate with additional third party products, this is the cheapest workflow option available.
Intelledox helps organisations nurture and control business processes through smart web forms, CRM/SharePoint/line of business integration, document automation and data transformation.
Intelledox has developed the Infiniti product which comprises an electronic forms engine coupled with workflow design, embedded rules and logic and the ability to re-use corporate data stores. The product provides broad functionality and flexibility at a price point lower than Nintex and K2. Our experience of Intelledox is that it has a low learning curve and is relatively simple to implement.
Nintex has developed a series of workflow tools aimed specifically at integrating with SharePoint. The Nintex workflow tools provide a good set of features along with a well-developed UI. The Nintex toolset does have some constraints, though, including potential performance issues with workflow logging and delays with the triggering of stages actions (details here).
The Nintex product is cheaper than K2, but the improvements to SharePoint 2013 may not provide a clear ROI to justify its purchase.
The K2 workflow toolset is the most expensive of the options discussed. It does, however, provide clear benefits over Nintex. K2 is able to manage more complex workflow tool than Nintex with more features available: Smart objects, Smart Forms, and Workflow, for example. It is also able to integrate with a number of different technologies and is currently used by a number of our clients.
Having said that, K2 has a rigid licensing model that can be expensive to deploy. Our experience of integrating SharePoint 2010 and K2 has also been that it can be an expensive product set to maintain once integrated.
With many organisations starting to embrace cloud services through the implementation of Microsoft’s Office365 product suite, it is worth discussing integration between Outlook365 and SharePoint. While SharePoint Online has been developed and allows integration with Outlook365, organisations will find that there is limited ability to integrate cloud based services with existing on-premise applications.
As an extension of that, organisations will find that they are also unable to use custom .Net code unless they are willing to redevelop their custom applications using SharePoint’s application model and host them on a separate server such as Azure.
Overall, each of the four different options reviewed have advantages over each other depending on the environment where they are to be deployed. With that in mind an organisation should ensure that they have a clear understanding of their workflow and cloud objectives within the context of their overall IT strategy and then ensure that their SharePoint solutions align with that strategy.
Additionally an organisation will need to consider the whole-of-life asset costs for the chosen workflow technology including licensing, maintenance and support costs.
If an organisation takes these points into considerations, then they will be well placed to maximise the benefits that SharePoint is able to offer and to leverage those when implementing workflow management solutions.