SharePoint Workflow: Service Delivery options – Part 3

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

This article is part of a four part series. 

Options for SharePoint Dedicated Online through Office365

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 workflow type is included.


In Office365, templates from SharePoint On-Premise are available, but when activated are shown as SharePoint 2010 workflows or will only be available if Microsoft Project Server is implemented.

- SharePoint 2010 'displayed'

  • Built in workflow core group
  • Aggregated set of out-of-box workflow features provided by SharePoint; Approval, Collect Feedback and Collect Signatures
  • These workflows defined as SharePoint 2010 Workflows

- Disposition Approval

    • Same as the Three State on-premise SharePoint workflow template

- Three-state

    • Same as the Three State on-premise SharePoint workflow template

- Publishing Approval

    • Built in workflow that routes a page for approval (appears for Portal type SharePoint sites). Approvers can approve or reject the page, reassign the approval task, or request changes to the page. This workflow can be edited in SharePoint Designer.

- Sample Proposal - Project Server Only

    • A special type of workflow only available for Project Server and bound to the Project Server Approval Content Type
    • Project Server Approval Content Type feature - content type is used by the Project Server Approval workflow.

- SharePoint 2007 Workflows

    • Aggregated set of out-of-box workflow features provided by SharePoint 2007 for backward compatibility
    • Requires extra configuration work to be visible to end users

Custom Workflows using SharePoint Designer 

Can be created but workflows will be displayed as SharePoint 2010 compliant. Can only be deployed as a sandbox solution, not as an App

Custom Workflows using Microsoft Visual Studio

Can be used in combination with workflows implemented in Office365 or created as an App

Options for going Hybrid

Options for Hybrid concerns workflows which covers the boundary of SharePoint 2013 on-premise to Microsoft Windows Azure which can then be utilized in Office365. Examples of these workflows is where, for example, human interaction processes in on-premise SharePoint services needs to be exposed in a cloud service. Examples of these could be where, for example, a document needs to be ‘copied’ from a SharePoint internal service into an Office365 site and where partners using an Office365 site need to be alerted. As mentioned in the 'Options for SharePoint on-premise' section, the Workflow Manager is an Windows Azure-based component, a multi-tenant host for running and managing workflows, supporting high scale and high density execution. The service builds on the workflow programming model, runtime and activity library in the .NET framework. This framework is used to communicate with cloud services. To do this, custom code using Microsoft Visual Studio needs to be crafted, packaged and deployed.

Workflow Manager is key

Workflows that are harvested in Workflow Manager do not have to run in the SharePoint 2013 farm. Separated servers can be used and this allows Workflow Manager to support multiple platforms such Office365, SharePoint 2013, SharePoint Dedicated Online and Windows Azure. Workflow Manager can be co-located with SharePoint, or provisioned on its own server group. This product is backward compatible with SharePoint 2010 workflows.

Publish to Azure

Workflows created using Windows Workflow Foundation 4 can be hosted in Windows Azure in one of three roles; a Web Role, Worker Role and a Hybrid Role. To do this, Microsoft Visual Studio 2013 Cloud Projects would have to be created with a service web role associated to the workflow project. Once done, the workflow can be published to Azure. Note that a hybrid approach will utilize on-premise components such as services (SharePoint and other), data stores and business processes.

Tools that can be used

  • SharePoint Designer 2013
  • Microsoft Visio 2013
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2013

Options from Third Parties

As the organization engages with SharePoint, there will be For example, a person in charge of an IT university department has not handed expenses in for six months. To solve this, he would need to find a way to submit those expenses, get the head of department to approve them, and then HR receives the approval, and then Finance pays the expenses. There are several people who would need to approve / reject - additionally, this process would have to deal with the outcomes of approval or rejection. The department does not have in place a development team. Clearly, the built-in options are not applicable neither is the option to custom develop a workflow.

Nintex and K2, two leading workflow solutions, addresses the need for the information worker to craft workflow solutions without having to be a developer. Users can create their own template or add to existing templates. There is a workflow designer that allows the users to drag and drop workflow components negating the requirement for writing code. K2 additionally provides Forms builder to create associated form entry dialogs, whereas Nintex comes standard only with Workflow; there is a forms builder but that must be purchased separately.

Both products are available for SharePoint 2010, 2013 on-premise as well as an App for Office365 and mobile devices.

Nintex and K2 comes packaged with many standard templates. For Nintex, for example, there are five categories covering Business Management / Finance, Human Resources, Operations and IT, Project Tracking / Product Management and Sales / Marketing.

Additionally, integration with other components integrated into SharePoint is important. For example, Nintex workflow has components to connect into a variety of third party tools, such as ARX Co-Sign digital signatures and PDF ShareForm form designer. They both also integrate with other content systems; such as Microsoft Dynamics CRM or SAP.

With any third party functionality, key aspects concerning performance, support, sustainability and availability of the third party company comes into question, including relationships and the popularity of the workflow tool.


Based on the analysis section, the following are strengths of SharePoint workflow taking into considerations all version of SharePoint including third party workflow solutions that work with SharePoint.

Configuration of SharePoint built in Workflows

  • Easy to implement
  • Business users can setup their own basic workflows
  • Workflows can be associated with web sites (Site Workflow)

SharePoint Designer Workflows

  • Basic workflows can be implemented by trained power users
  • Relatively quick to implement for low complexity workflows

Custom Code Workflows using Visual Studio

  • Based on Windows Workflow Foundation
  • Supports sequential and state machine workflows
  • Workflow forms can be generated using Microsoft Visual Studio
  • Deployable to different environments using SharePoint solution and feature framework
  • Fully customizable
  • Hybrid workflows can be monitored using IIS Dashboard

Workflow Manager for Cloud

  • Ability to scale the SharePoint farm without impact to the Workflow Management system
  • Ability to connect to other systems and data sources
  • Ability to connect to Windows Azure and Office365
  • Separated business continuity and disaster recovery

Third Party Workflow products

  • Requires minimal effort to implement
  • Provides publishing new version of workflows whilst earlier versions continue to operate
  • Allows cleaner auditing without relying on SharePoint built-in timer
  • User experienced enhanced and closer to information worker realization
  • Re-use of components and easier to deploy across team sites
  • Savings in support, maintenance and enhancements
  • Workflow products available in Office365 and for mobile devices
  • Little need to develop the underlying network infrastructure
  • Readily expandable to meet immediate business requirements


  • Workflows forms can be developed using Microsoft Visio


Based on the analysis section, the following are strengths of SharePoint workflow taking into considerations all version of SharePoint including third party workflow solutions that work with SharePoint.

Configuration of built in Workflows

  • Limited configuration options
  • Basic workflows available
  • User experience is limited

SharePoint Designer Workflows

  • No source control
  • Deployment to other environments difficult
  • Sequential workflows only

Custom Code Workflows

  • Steep learning curve
  • Lack of good documentation and tools for debugging and diagnostics
  • Package needs to be created for workflow changes
  • High implementation and maintenance costs
  • Hybrid workflows will be more complex and will incur bandwidth costs

Workflow Manager

  • Infrastructure costs to provide platform
  • Skills required to implement and support

Third Party

  • No standards yet developed specifically for third party workflow development
  • Security and rigid processes may be an issue
  • Skills required to implement and support are high
  • Requires good third party support availability
  • Clarity required on the Workflow engine being used requires addressing

Great insight into the Workflow in SharePoint. Keep your eyes out for part 4 which will talk about Guidance. 

Articles within Series


Comments (3)

  1. Anonymous says:

    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

  2. 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

  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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