Is it time to extend your SharePoint Workflows?

One thing a lot of clients ask me:  “When should I start looking at a 3rd party product for my SharePoint Workflows?”

This can be a tricky question sometimes, as the answer always comes back to:

“It depends on what you want to do and what your requirements are.”

But I figured I would at least try to compare SharePoint Native Workflows with what would be logically the product that would extend workflow functionality in SharePoint, but not replace it:  Nintex Workflow.

A quick Primer:  Nintex Workflow is a SharePoint Add-in that essentially replaces the User Interface for SharePoint Workflows, as well as adds new functionality that are not currently found when creating Workflows with SharePoint designer.  The Product still utilizes the same workflow engine that SharePoint native workflows use (Workflow Manager), and it still beholden to any limitations with THAT product.

With that being said, the decision on whether to purchase Nintex really depends on answering some key questions around your requirements.

Who will create and maintain the workflows?

Advanced workflow creation in SharePoint and Nintex is not as simple as either company would like to tell you.  Your audience should understand variables, loops, parallel block processing, and when to create certain columns in SharePoint that need to store certain information.  You don’t necessarily need to be a developer to create and maintain workflows, but there are certainly design patterns that should be considered when implementing them.  If you are have a fairly non-technical user base for your workflows:

The UI for Nintex is drag and drop, and much more graphical than SharePoint designer.  For users who prefer being able to see how the flow of their workflow looks, and see decision trees.  Nintex provides a much easier user experience that SharePoint Designer, which depending on your audience, may be much needed.  SPD is much more text based (even though it can be modeled in Visio, which itself isn’t that intuitive).

nintex

Sample Nintex Loop

spd

Sample SPD loop

What are you trying to accomplish with your Workflows?

The answer to this question can be relatively broad and oftentimes “We’re not sure what we’re going to be doing in the future”.  That’s ok!  Maybe the best strategy is to start with SPD and then move to Nintex when the requirements call for it.  Workflows created in both will still function on the platform.  It’s certainly not as pristine, but it makes more sense if your needs to move to Nintex never come to Fruition.

When would I need to move to a product like Nintex?

My rule for when Nintex becomes a good idea, is when you have a need to begin to have workflows that need to communicate outside of data stored in SharePoint.  Not even just SharePoint, but when you have needs that might cross Web Applications, or even Site Collections.  Nintex can handle cross authentication MUCH easier than SharePoint Designer, as well as offer Actions that SPD does not offer.  Here are a couple of example actions that Nintex provides:

  • Adobe Sign integration
  • DocuSign integration
  • Document Generation
  • Execute SQL – (Enter a connection string and query, and get the results)
  • Office 365 Add user to a Group
  • Wait for Field Change in Current Item
  • Web Request ( More advanced than the basic call HTTP Web Service.  You can easily perform PUT, POST, DELETE, and form the entire Body of the Message with Authentication included)
  • The ability to Build and trim strings, substrings, and regular expressions
  • Yammer Integration
  • The ability to Provision instances in AWS, Azure, and Rackspace
  • The ability to provision users in Office 365 and Yammer
  • and my personal favorite:  the ability to manipulate JSON dictionary collections (Sort, Join, Remove, Remove Duplicates)

In conclusion

My recommendation when looking at workflow is:  Start Simple unless your requirements are already NOT simple.  Visualize your processes first then choose a product that fits.  IF you’re business processes are not conducive to automating, then it might be time to look at Business Process Management help.  A product is only as good as the processes you’re trying to automate.

If you’re interested in learning more about SharePoint 2016, Office 365, Nintex, or BPM Consulting services, please feel free to reach out to me at joseph.karnes@centricconsulting.com

 

 

Categories: Microsoft

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