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SharePoint 2010 : Defining Workflows in the Business Environment

3/26/2011 6:30:08 PM
SharePoint 2010 offers a variety of different types of workflows that can be used to enhance business processes and replace legacy business workflows that involve time-consuming manual processes and may not be well defined. This article provides information about a number of different workflows available in the SharePoint 2010 product line and is intended to whet the appetite of users and administrators alike to delve deeper into the out-of-the-box workflows as well as capabilities of SharePoint Designer 2010 to create complex workflows to meet everyday user requirements.

Alerts are discussed briefly as an introduction to the concept of workflows in SharePoint 2010 products, and then a detailed look at a Three-State workflow in action is provided, which is a complex enough process to give a solid introduction to the processes involved with starting and interacting with a workflow in SharePoint 2010. An overview of the other standard workflows is given from a high level, as well as the process of installing and using SharePoint Designer 2010 to create a custom workflow. Along the way, tips are given for farm administrators and site collection administrators about the tools and settings available to manage workflows and the use of SharePoint Designer 2010.

Defining Workflows in the Business Environment

In a business environment, workflows exist throughout the organization in formal and informal incarnations, and organizations of all sizes are increasingly concerned with formalizing and streamlining processes critical to the business. A key challenge in workflows is the combination of forms, the human element, time, and lack of defined processes. Consider the prototypical workflow involving an expense report form filled out by hand by User5, who then puts it in the mail slot of User2, who signs it, and puts it into the HR mail slot for processing. Consider then that User5 doesn’t get the reimbursement and the steps that need to be taken for him to try and figure out what happened.

SharePoint-based workflow is one of the enterprise-level features that many users began to adopt in the SharePoint 2007 product line, and will continue to leverage in SharePoint 2010 products. This is especially true as users come to embrace the SharePoint storage modules of libraries and lists, where the ability to leverage workflows is immediately available.

Several advantages of creating and managing workflows in a SharePoint 2010 environment include the following:

  • An easy-to-use design interface in SharePoint 2010 that quickly enables site administrators and power users to translate informal processes into well-defined, automated, and audited processes

  • A structure that contains and manages the workflow engines, leveraging the hardware and software investment already made in SharePoint

  • Interaction with SharePoint lists such as the Tasks list to facilitate the use and management of workflows and reduce the learning curve for end users

  • The option of using SharePoint Designer 2010 to create different types of workflows than in the SharePoint user interface that offer more options, flexibility, and intelligence

  • The option to use Visio 2010 to make the workflow design process more intuitive for less-technical users

Considering Alerts as Basic Workflows

This is a form of workflow because an automated process is pushing information to end users via email, which is similar to one component of the workflows that will be discussed in this article, such as the Three-State workflow. Although alerts are limited in terms of configuration options, certain lists add customized alerts to the list of what’s available. For example, in an issues list, an alert option is added in the Send Alerts for these Changes section: Someone changes an item that appears in the following view. As shown in Figure 1, an alert in this type of list can be triggered by a change in a specific view. Because views are extremely customizable, and could, for example, just include items where the column values match certain criteria, this capability can be very powerful. For example, a view could be created in an issues list called My Active High Priority Issues that only displays items where the Assigned To value equals [Me], the Priority is set to (1) High, and where the Issue Status is set to Active. Then if any changes happen in this very specific view, the user will be notified.

Figure 1. Alert options in an issues list.

Tip

Review the different alert options available in lists such as Calendar, Tasks, and Issues to see the unique alerts provided and think about how they might be leveraged to enhance the usefulness of the alerts for users of the lists.

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