SharePoint Workflow: Service Delivery options – Part 1

Geoff EvelynThe following article is contributed by Geoff Evelyn, SharePoint MVP and owner of

This article is part of a four part series. 

Let’s take a service delivery examination concerning workflow provisions around SharePoint, Office365, Windows Azure and what implications there are for organisations needing to improve business process automation, collaboration and productivity through workflow adoption. SharePoint has through most of its versions provided workflow systems, but can they stack up as future technologies grasp the cloud? How could organizations benefit from the available features? What should organizations do to choose the correct workflow solution to meet their needs?


Total automation of business processes is practically unachievable without considering human interaction. This is a factor that is tied to many aspects of process automation and integration. Human interaction is present in some of the most common business processes, like order approvals and human resources management.

SharePoint is by definition a collaborative platform with integration to external systems. There will be ongoing requirements for that platform to provide systems (known as workflow) to solve collaborative and information and technical challenges around human interaction issues, and to enhance user productivity. SharePoint provides frameworks for workflow provision; present in SharePoint on-premise, SharePoint Online Dedicated and in Office365. This series will explore the main components that are present in those platforms, comparisons, high level features and benefits. This series will also assess the current perspectives around the provision of Workflow and top level impacts.

Workflow - The Business Process Automated

Key to solving collaborative and information challenges in organization is business process automation. This is the ability for the business to improve productivity of their users by providing methods to aid with day-to-day functions with little or no human intervention; in order to increase user productivity and decrease inefficiency. Content management systems all include workflow systems and plugins, which is used to support communication between people and systems. These workflow systems generally carry out these through the automation of a business process tied to content stored in content management systems.

To accomplish this, the workflow system will need to provide basic functions like task assignment, identity management, notifications, tracking and inter-operation. SharePoint provides workflow systems to solve these collaborative and information challenges.

However, before diving into the features of workflow systems available in SharePoint on-premise, SharePoint Dedicated Online, Office365 or Windows Azure, there needs to be clarification concerning the purpose of workflow and involvement. Additionally, there needs to be clarification on the main components in the relevant workflow architecture.

Developing Workflows

Having workflow features and using them correctly are two very different things. A mind-set is needed to achieve successful use of workflows. This mind-set would, before actually choosing any workflow solution, identify the type of workflow to use, the template to be assigned and the customization level requirements (if any), people involved, the objective, security, the various states that need to be achieved, and notifications to inform of progress. Presumably, organisations would adopt this mind-set in order to choose the workflow solution to match their requirements. However, there are further considerations such as the flow of the business process and then mapping the relevant options within SharePoint to that flow.

Types of Workflow

The aspect of the business process to automate is defined as a workflow. A workflow is a template, which contains task components. Tasks are the main communication unit between business processes and people. Typically, a task is assigned to a user who needs to perform a related action. Normally a user has to perform a series of tasks that are grouped semantically. As part of the business process, the task is assigned to a group of users acting on the same task. The workflow system (which utilizes a key component known as the task management service), manages the business process to get the status update of the task.

To understand more about the task management service in the context of workflow, and circumstances in which they are used, we need to examine two types of workflow solution - Serial, and Parallel.

  1. Serial Workflow

The serial (also known as sequential) workflow represents a scenario in which a task must be completed by a set of users. This solution has interactions:

  • Interact with the task management service to configure tasks and set appropriate rules
  • Define the sequence of users that should act on the task
  • First user will claim the task, and upon completion the task management service will route the task to the next user in the group
  1. Parallel Workflow

A parallel workflow represents the scenario in which a task must be completed by different users at the same time. Each approver can add comments and attachments that are independent of the others. For implementation this has interactions:

  • Interact with the task management service to configure tasks and set appropriate rules
  • Define the sequence of users that should act on the task
  • The task management service routes the task to all relevant users
  • The task management service will complete only when all users are finished acting on the task

Segments of the Analysis

The analysis will cover the options for SharePoint on-premise, SharePoint Dedicated through Office365, and options for Hybrid (workflow creation from on-premise that also operate in cloud services). Additionally, tools used to create workflows will be referred to in the analysis as well as third party products in the SharePoint workflow arena.

Articles within Series

Great insight into the Workflow in SharePoint. Keep your eyes out for part 2 which will talk about options for SharePoint on-prem, custom workflow using SharePoint Designer and Microsoft Visual Studio.

Comments (3)

  1. Anonymous says:

    In SharePoint 2003, there was no workflow platform. This changed when SharePoint 2007 came onto the horizon, with the addition of the Windows Workflow Foundation platform. This is a development platform that allows the provisioned workflow templates in

  2. Anonymous says:

    With SharePoint Server 2010, and with SharePoint Online for Office 365 for enterprises, all five of the following workflow types are included. With SharePoint Online for Office 365 for small businesses and professionals, however, only the Three-state

  3. Anonymous says:

    Workflow involves the various tasks that employees must complete on a business activity, and these tasks often occur in a specific order. A workflow could be something completely non-technical, such as feeding a horse; however, it usually involves some

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