SharePoint Workflow: Service Delivery options – Part 4

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

This article is part of a four part series. 


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 level of interaction with technology mixed with human activity. 

Whilst SharePoint workflows are based on content (for example, a document), it is important to remember that the actual document may be representative of a larger human based process, such as applying for a job, or requesting vacation time. 

Hence, delivery of a SharePoint workflow solution is based on the imperative of the user productivity - to fulfil a discreet challenge; to automate a process within a specific business function or unit. To information workers, whether this is surfaced in SharePoint on-premise, or SharePoint dedicated, is irrelevant since to them, their content automation is important, irrespective of the solution provisioned.

And this is where the conundrum lies. Due to the emergence of Office365, and the lowered aspects of control from Infrastructure teams when dealing with Office365, combined with the reality that developer tools are needed to create workflows beyond the built-in basic workflows in Office365, deciding what workflow solution is best will vex decision makers and solution architects. Additionally, other content management systems, open source provisioned, already have workflow plugins – that affects the business perception of what is available, how quickly, and gives pause-for-thought concerning cost.

For those organisations already using Nintex or K2 for SharePoint on-premise, the availability of these products within Office365 as subscribed 'apps' makes things easier when coming to the decision of how to utilize workflows in Office365 without having to content with user experience issues, for example. That said, the organization would still be locked into a vendor, which needs to be reviewed concerning supportability, availability and cost.

Due to the varied options presented in this analysis, there is no single best workflow feature that should be adopted, as the best feature depends very much on the actual business requirement. The features provided through using built-in, custom or third party support have varying levels of structure, support, and infrastructure requirements. The culture of the organization concerning configuration management, rigidity, budget and work processes is also a major factor.

In any case, key guidance points for organisations based on the analysis are:

Measure the Cost versus Value in building workflows

Organisations considering process automation workflows in SharePoint should factor the required resources both human and technical, man-hours including start-up and ongoing costs. This needs to be value-managed against what kind of workflow solution is going to be created, the life-time of that product including ongoing support requirements.

Evaluate development practice and review managed services

Organisations considering custom development using workflow programming and design tools such as Microsoft Visual Studio, and/or Microsoft Visio and SharePoint Designer should ensure that a software management standard is in place and being adhered to. This needs to be consistent and continually map into manageable solutions for all custom development requirements. If there is complexity and the cost justified, organizations should consider utilizing the services of a third party development group. This group should work as an extension to the existing development team or as a dedicated Microsoft Technologies expert. Throughout this organizations must be mindful of continued cost, time-constraints, and project management constraints throughout the lifecycle of the relevant workflow solution.

Identify the workflow roadmap; link the workflow roadmap to IT governance, and organizational content management strategy

Any workflow solution requires a full identification of organization’s requirements that map into the workflow solution which covers all configuration management constraints. There needs to be a roadmap which links the workflow to associated processes, rules and governance. Organisations must provide detailed planning and estimations on any and all custom applications that are needed. This is to ensure that the workflow maps to the organisation’s needs, and that the workflow solution is both cost effective and robust.

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