SharePoint offers a lot of ways to help teams and businesses stay connected. Automating your business processes with SharePoint provides a way to increase that utility to move beyond just showing and finding information to processing corporate and work tasks. SharePoint workflows are little programs that automate business tasks with little or no coding. Best of all, with centralized distribution and low-code solutions, you can automate your business workflows with SharePoint without weeks or months of development.
An Automated Business Workflow
In many companies, predefined procedures allow for efficient processing of necessary tasks. One common example are expense reports from employees who travel for company business. When it comes to a marketing executive flying to three towns per week, these processes become quickly understood and easily used.
However, most companies have just as many employees who travel less often, maybe just once or twice a year. These employees often end up having to re-learn how to file their expense reports each time, especially if any changes have been made to the process. The result is that there is a poor worker down in accounting who spends a large portion of their time everyday retraining users on the expense report procedure.
But what if workers, whether frequent users or not, could just click a link that would take them directly into the process, and it could help complete an expense report in the most efficient way possible each time? This is exactly the kind of thing that workflows in SharePoint can do.
An expense report item can be published to a Team Site. When the user opens and completes the expense report, a workflow can automatically ask other users to approve the submitted report. Each approver would receive notification that their approval is necessary, as well as a follow-up reminder if the approval takes too long. If any approver rejects the report, it can automatically notify the original user of the rejection and allow corrections to be made. Once corrected, the process begins again.
Along the way, SharePoint keeps track of approvals and provides a current status of the workflow so that all participants know where in the process the approvals are. When all necessary approvals are granted, the workflow ends with an approved status.
How SharePoint Workflows Work
Workflows are predefined tasks that are attached to documents or files within SharePoint. Creating or editing these files or documents trigger a cascade of tasks that make up a workflow. Each step in the workflow is automatically triggered as the previous step is completed. To prevent a workflow from getting stuck, one can set an automatic reminder or alert to trigger if a certain amount of time passes without action.
Users can check the status of an in-progress workflow to see what steps have been completed, and which steps are still awaiting action. By default, all workflows are stored for 60-days, so there is no need to keep copies of each approval.
Built-In SharePoint Workflows
There are several built-in workflows to handle the most common business cases. By customizing these built-in workflows, businesses can tailor steps to not only to their specific company, but to specific processes. An approval workflow for a vacation request might go only to one manager, while an approval workflow for a large project might need to go to several managers, and a procurement officer. In either case, uses you can start from one of the build-in workflows and customizes each step.
The Approval workflow routes documents or other items to people for approval. The first step sends the document to the appropriate people for review. The workflow notifies the approvers that a document is waiting and asks them to approve, reject, request change, or to reassign the task to another approver. In the case of multiple approvers, the workflow combines the results of multiple approvers.
The workflow ends with the item being approved, rejected, or in the case of requested changes, pending. Once the changes are made, the workflow restarts and submits the changed document for approval. The key is that all parties can see the document as it progresses through the process. There’s no need to email the approver to see if they received the document, or if they’ve approved it.
The Collect Feedback workflow works very similarly to the approval workflow in that the document or item is sent to reviewers who then automatically receive an assignment to review the item and then tracks how each reviewer responds, and if necessary, forwards the document on to the next reviewer. The main difference is that the collect feedback workflow does not result in an approval or rejection, rather it simply ends after collecting feedback.
The Collect Signatures workflow uses the same process as above to collect digital signatures. Although this acts as a form of approval, the point of this workflow is to just get sign off, rather than the review of an item. This type of workflow is useful for getting manager sign- off on a document, such as an expense report, or an approval to attend a conference or other function. In this case, the end of the workflow does not result in an approve or disapprove, but rather just with the applicable signatures attached.
The Three-State workflow works like other workflows in that tasks are automatically assigned to users as the workflow progresses. However, the three-state workflow is less about drilling through to completion on a single purpose, and more about keeping track of a large volume of tasks that make up one overall workflow.
In many ways, a three-state workflow looks a lot like a project management tool. There are, as expected, three different states in the three-states workflow: Active, Ready for Review, and Complete. Using this template, several tasks can be sent to several users at the same time. As a user completes the work for their task, the status changes to Ready for Review and automatically notifies the user who needs to perform the review. Once the reviewer signs off on the task, the status moves to Complete. The workflow moves toward completion as more and more items are marked Complete.
The final built-in workflow is a specialized one for automating the publishing of new web page content. It is called the Publishing Approval workflow. Like the approval workflow, when a user submits a page for approval, the approvers are automatically notified. Unlike other workflows, the only options for reviewers is to approve or reject. If all the necessary approvers approve the document, then it publishes. Publishing approval workflows only work on publishing sites.
Custom SharePoint Workflows
No matter how customizable a template is, there is always the possibility that a business will have a specific need that cannot be meant with a built-in workflow. Custom workflows can be created using SharePoint Designer 2013, or with Visual Studio 2012 or later. SharePoint Designer 2013 allows workflow design without code, although the If/Then syntax is best suited toward power users, or those with previous experience building workflows.
A custom workflow works the same as the built -in workflows. A triggering event, such as creating or editing a file, causes a workflow to begin. Once started, the customized steps complete actions such as emailing approvers, collecting approval, and then triggering further steps bases on the results of previous steps until the workflow ends.
Ready to Get Started?
Whether you’re using built-in workflows or customizing your own, SharePoint workflows can help you streamline your manual business processes into quick, repeatable automated flows that can ultimately save you time, effort, and money.
If you’re ready to get started with automating your business workflows with SharePoint, just know that Imaginet is here to help. Our Imaginet SharePoint experts have helped over 500 customers around the globe with all of their SharePoint needs since the first version of SharePoint was release. And we’re ready to help you, too.
Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1-800-989-7622 to schedule a free consultation call to get started on your path towards automating your business workflows with SharePoint.
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