Archive for Workflow Automation

What is Workflow Automation? And Why Should I care?

Time. Workflows save time by automating processes.

Time is the only resource that you can’t create, buy, acquire, borrow or steal. That, makes time incredibly valuable, which has been recognized by great thinkers throughout the years.

  • “You may delay, but time will not.” Benjamin Franklin
  • “The future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of 60 minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.” C. S. Lewis
  • “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.” Steve Jobs
  • “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” Theophrastus
  • “We must use time as a tool, not as a couch.” John F. Kennedy

And for the more practical, less philosophically minded, “Time is money.” Benjamin Franklin

Workflows create time for people by automating routine processes by machine. It’s that simple.

For any division, organization or line of business that has a routine process that is used regularly, it is worth investing in the development of an automated workflow.

Workflows for Human Resources:

Need to onboard a new hire? There’s a workflow for that.

Need to manage a review process? There’s a workflow for that.

Workflows for Procurement:

Need to send out an RFQ? There’s a workflow for that.

Need to evaluate a vendor? There’s a workflow for that.

Workflows for Finance:

Need to close out year end? There’s a workflow for that.

Need to publish an annual report? There’s a workflow for that.

Workflow for Marketing:

Need to put together a launch campaign? There’s a workflow for that.

Need to manage your social media? There’s a workflow for that.

Here’s how it works, in a simple example. Using an “off the shelf” tool you can have your phone check the weather and remind you to dress appropriately.

IF it’s likely to rain today THEN text me a message to bring my umbrella.

Have trouble maintaining your inbox and afraid you’re going to miss an important message from your manager?

IF <manager> sends me an email, THEN text <number>.

These are both super easy to set up with drag and drop workflow automation tools like “If this then that” and Microsoft Flow.

Workflows not only save time, they can relieve workers of a monotonous routine function enabling them to focus on more important work.

Workflows can capture institutional knowledge—reducing reliance on an individual by putting process into a system that can be shared and used by the entire organization. When a process is independent of an individual, that process can be decentralized, meaning that the knowledge of that process can be shared at scale.  Decentralized processes create speed, efficiency and transparency, critical factors in digital transformation.

In short, workflows save time through basic automation.  What’s amazing about workflows is how easily they scale, saving a little time for many which adds up to a whole lot for the organization.

About Noah:

240-Ullman,-NoahNoah is the Director of Business Development for BlumShapiro’s Technology Consulting Group. He brings over 25 years of business experience from entrepreneurial start ups, to over a decade of working at Microsoft in various sales, marketing and business development roles. Noah has launched Windows XP, Office XP, Tablet PC, Media Center PC, MSN Direct Smartwatches (an early IoTattempt), several videogames, a glove controller, and a wine import company/brand. Noah spent three years living overseas building out Microsoft’s Server and Tools business in Eastern Europe working with the IT Pro and developer communities. He considers himself a futurist, likes science fiction and loves applying what was recently science fiction to real world problems and opportunities. 

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Develop Workflows and Business Processes Without Developers

Companies are beginning to embrace technology at a higher level. However, there are still a number of businesses that have processes, a.k.a. workflows (an automated process) that rely on a user to manually enter information into an Excel spreadsheet. This spreadsheet can range from a simple list to one which has “complex” calculations that accounts for crazy exceptions (like adding 2% to the total if the month ends on a Tuesday while raining). These lists usually have one or two gatekeepers who know their calculations by heart, so if they leave the organization, the process becomes a headache for someone else or worse—grinds the business to a halt. Bottom line, it could be bad for a company.

Imagine taking your complex process and developing an application to take it over. This may seem like a steep challenge, but in today’s technological marketplace, there are services and apps that can help users create workflows and apps. Taking advantage of the technology to create these apps and workflows provides a huge benefit by getting the process knowledge and logic out of one person’s hands and into an automated process—making it accessible by anyone. This will also help to document the process and uncover any inefficiencies and deficiencies.

Microsoft, among other companies, are gearing application and workflow development toward power users and away from developers. These products are built with users in mind first, using a drag and drop interface. Most of the software tools are intuitive so little direction is needed to develop these workflows. These users already know the process intimately and don’t need to learn C# or Java or whatever language they have never heard of. However, having a technology specialist can still provide insight into workflows that might not have been thought of in the first place.

Workflow Automation Products

Below are a few Software as a Service (SaaS) workflow products that are geared towards power users.

Microsoft Flow

Flow is a drag and drop service solution used to create automated workflows in Office 365. These workflows can connect different applications and services; both enterprise (Office 365, SharePoint Online, Salesforce, CRM) and social (Twitter, DropBox, MailChimp). For example, you can easily create a Dynamics CRM entry from SharePoint list items. This happens to be a preconfigured template; requiring little effort to implement. Flow also has the ability for you to create your own custom workflows using their drag and drop interface.


PowerApps is a service that allows users to build Android, iOS and Windows apps without writing any code. This SaaS allows you to connect custom APIs, SharePoint, Excel, etc., and turn this data into an app. You can easily create an app to list and fill out information. Users outside of the office can use these apps on their phones and all of the data would be up-to-date in a SharePoint Online list, Excel, etc. Like Microsoft Flow, it is also hosted in Office 365 and has pre-built templates.

Power BI

Power BI is a service which can be used to build dashboards and data analytics reports using data from different sources within your organization. There are out of the box connectors to programs like Excel, Project Online, Adobe Analytics, Salesforce, CRM and others. Power BI can improve processes, even when data is in different locations that requires someone to pull together data from different places into one location. For example, say all project financials are located in an Excel spreadsheet over in Finance, yet the actual project costs are tracked by each individual team. To get all of this data into one report, someone would need to get the data from at least two different sources and merge them into one report. Power BI can automate that. Power BI is used to aggregate data from different sources into one location. In our example, instead of an executive calling on someone to get the numbers, compile them and produce a report; those numbers are displayed in Power BI, which is always up-to-date, and can even be drilled into or associated with key performance indicators (KPIs).

SharePoint Workflows

SharePoint workflows are also designed for a power user to create business processes (workflows). These can run on either SharePoint on premise or online. These workflows work well for approvals and processes that reside in SharePoint. External site integration is possible out of the box, but it does take some technical knowledge to do this. Some products fill that gap and have created a usable drag and drop interface with pre-built connectors. Two top vendors are Nintex and K2. Just like Microsoft Flow, users can build workflows by dragging actions onto a canvas.

Which Workflow Tool is the Best?

We recommend that organizations evaluate all software and services that are available to determine which product would best suit their unique business needs. They should look at features such as which product might integrate best with their existing software and what is the future software/technology strategy of the organization?

How can we help?

All organizations can benefit from streamlining processes or eliminating manual tasks. Workflows are easier to create than ever before, however, having the technical expertise of a consultant can be extremely beneficial. By being able to leverage our past experience and intimate knowledge of the products you need, we can determine the best technology for your project and implement the process along with guiding and training your users to do this themselves.

About Brent:


Brent Harvey has over 10 years of software development experience with a specific focus on SharePoint, Project Server, and C #and web development. Brent is an Architect at BlumShapiro Consulting. Brent is a Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert in SharePoint 2013, Solutions Associate in Windows Server 2012, Specialist in Developing Azure Solutions and Professional Developer in SharePoint 2010.

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User Defined Actions in Nintex Workflow for Sharepoint

In my last blog post I gave a quick introduction to Nintex Workflow for SharePoint and showed you how to create a very basic workflow with a custom Start Form. I based the fields that are being collected in the Start Form around the idea of a kind of approval workflow that would have 3 types of Approvals that I named Content Approval, Format Approval and Grammar Approval. These approval types could be anything, the idea is just to show that you may have approvals/tasks that are very similar but you would like a few minor differences like with the wording of the Task Description. In order to accomplish this without recreating or copying the same set of Actions multiple times I am going to show you how to create a User Defined Action. A User Defined Action is created in a very similar way to the workflow itself but it allows you to use that set of Actions multiple times in your workflow, or in multiple workflows for that matter, as if it was one action. One of the big advantages to doing this is that if later you need to make a change to that part of the workflow, you can just change the User Defined Action so you don’t have to make the change multiple times.

Now that you get the idea let’s get started. Click on Site Actions. Select Nintex Workflow 2010 and then select Manage User Defined Actions.

Click Create. You will notice that the screen looks the same as when we created the workflow in the previous post.

Go into UDA Settings from the ribbon and enter a Title and Description and optionally change the Category. Click Parameters.

Click New. Enter “ProjectManager” for Name, “Input” for Direction, “Text” as the Type, enter a Description if you want and select Required. Even though you are passing in a person it will accept it as text. Click OK. Click New and create an Input Parameter for “ApprovalText”, “ApprovalType” and “Approver” all with Type of Text. When you are done the User Defined Action Parameter screen should look like this.

Click Close. Click Save on the User Defined Action Settings Screen. Now we are ready to start building the User Defined Action. The process for this is the same as building a workflow. You either select an Action from the left and drag it to the spot you want it or right-click on the spot you want an Action, select Insert Action and select the Action you want. You can then configure the action if necessary.
The first Action we will add will be for a task. There are a few different Actions I could use for this but I am going to use the Flexi task because just like it sounds, it’s a bit more flexible. Right click on the open spot in the Custom Action screen, hover over Insert Action, hover over User interaction and select Assign Flexi task.

Just like in the Workflow you will notice that the Action has an exclamation point indicating it needs to be configured. You will also notice that it has created 2 braches, Approve and Reject. With a Flexi task this can be customized to have different labels and even to add additional outcomes.

Click on the drop down arrow on the Action and select Configure. In the Configure Action screen you can specify who to assign the task to, enter a description of the task, customize the outcomes, etc. You can also customize the task notification that gets sent to the assignee.

To start with we will specify the Assignee by clicking the lookup icon next to the Assignees field. At the bottom of the Select People and Groups dialog expand the “Lookup” section and then scroll down to the Workflow Variables group and click on Approver, click Add and then OK.

This will cause the task to be assigned to the Approver that we setup previously as an input parameter into the User Defined Action. Now we can enter a Task Description. Since we also created an input parameter for Approval Text we will select that for the Description by clicking the Insert Reference button, selecting the Parameters tab, double-clicking ApprovalText and clicking OK. At this point let’s add an additional Outcome. Click Add outcome. Enter “Request Changes” for the name and click OK.

For behavior I am going to just leave it as “First response applies”. The Behavior selection is designed for instances where there are multiple assignees. You can decide if the Outcome is decided by the First response, Majority, or All assignees agreeing. For the purposes of this I am not storing the outcome or outcome achieved. Let’s change the Task Name though. If you remember we created an input parameter of Approval Type. Let’s set the Task name by clearing the default text and then clicking the lookup button next to the field. Click into the “Dynamic text to insert” area at the bottom and type “Review ” (leaving a space at the end). Select the Parameters tab and double-click on ApprovalType and click OK.

I am leaving the rest of the options at their default values so your “Configure Actions” dialog should now look like this.

Now we can customize the notification by clicking the “Task Notification” button in the ribbon. Add the Project Manager to the CC field by click the lookup button next to that field, expanding the Lookup section, scrolling to the Workflow Variables group and adding ProjectManager. Now we can set the Subject to the same value as the Task Name by clearing the default text, clicking the lookup icon, typing “Review ” in the “Dynamic text to insert” area, selecting the Parameters tab, double-clicking ApprovalType and clicking OK just like we did previously. We can now also add the ApprovalText into the notification text. Click on the end of the first line and hit “Enter” twice to add a couple extra line. Put your cursor on the second line and click the “Insert Reference” button. Click on the Parameters tab and double-click ApprovalText and click OK. Your Task Notification should now look like this.

Click on the General tab at the top and click Save. Notice the exclamation point is gone in the Action. Also notice that there is a third branch called “Request Changes”. We are not going to do anything with that branch now but it will be used in another blog post when I discuss looping. Right now all I am going to add is some logging in the Reject and Approve branches. Add the “Log in history list Action” from the Operations group into the “Reject” branch. Click the drop down and select Configure. Click Insert Reference. Go to the “Parameters” tab and double-click ApprovalType. In the Dynamic text to insert box add ” Rejected – ” after the text that was added. Then click the “Common” tab and double-click Approver Comments. Click OK.

Click Save.

Since the only difference between what I want to log for an Approve and a Reject is one word let’s copy by clicking on the drop down icon for the new Log in history list Action under Reject and selecting “Copy”.
Right click on the open space in the Approve branch and select “Paste”. Then Configure the “Log in history list” Action in the Approve branch and change the word Rejected to Approved. Click Save.

We now have a complete User Defined Action so click Publish in the ribbon, add any Change Comments you would like and click Submit. Click Close in the ribbon.
To summarize, in this post we learned how to create a User Defined Action, add and configure the Flexi task Action, customize the notification and add outcomes. In my next blog post I will show you how to add the User Defined Action to the workflow and how to run Actions in parallel.

Introduction to Nintex Workflow for SharePoint

One of the most powerful features in SharePoint that doesn’t get used nearly as often as it should is workflow. One of the reasons for this is that many people are just intimidate by it. They might use some “Out-of-the-Box” approval workflows but beyond that the idea of creating a custom workflow is seen as beyond their capabilities. This is why we have partnered with Nintex. They have a workflow product that integrates seamlessly into the SharePoint user interface so it does not require using Visual Studio or SharePoint Designer. Nintex Workflow provides an intuitive visual interface that makes creating and maintaining workflows much easier.

Over the course of the next few weeks I will be writing a series of articles going through a number of common features that every business can benefit from. The workflow I am going to create during this series of articles is just a simplified example of something you might run into. I am going to have the workflow manually started so it can have a start form to collect data. The workflow is going to assign tasks to 3 different types of approvers in parallel. The approval process will be the same for each but the notifications that will go out to each group will be a little different. This will allow me to show you creating a parallel process and create a user defined action. Additionally I will show how to loop back in case the Project Manager wants to resubmit a Declined tasks to the approver.

For this article I will start from the beginning and show how to customize the workflow start itself by creating variables and customizing the start form.

Let’s get started from the beginning. You will want to start in a list or library, in my case I am starting out in a document library. So we will go to Workflow Settings and select “Create a Workflow in Nintex Workflow”.

When prompted I selected a Blank Template for my workflow. At this point you will see a screen that is similar to flow chart in Visio. The Actions are on the left and the flow chart is in the main part of the screen. At this point I am not going to add any actions I will do that later. In the ribbon click Workflow Settings.

In the Workflow Setting screen, enter a Title for your workflow, a Description of the purpose of the workflow and select the workflow options that you require, in this case I have select Start Manually, and set Start when items are created and Start when items are modified to “No” so that I can have a custom start form.


Now we can add some variables to be populated on the start screen. In the ribbon click “Variables”.


I am going to create a few person selector fields, 3 Approvers and a Project Manager. In the Workflow Variable screen click New and then give the field a Name, select “Person or Group” for the Type, Select “Show on start form”, Select “Required”, and I am choosing “Any User” and “Allow Users” but you can set these however you want.


After doing this for all 3 Approvers and a Project Manager and adding an Approval Text field (Single Line of Text) your Workflow Variable screen should look like this.


At this point, you can Close the Workflow Variables screen. We are now going to customize the Start Form so click the drop down arrow on the Edit Start Form button in the ribbon and select Edit with Nintex Forms.


This will bring up the Nintex Forms – Form Designer. From here you can make whatever changes you would like to the Start Form. For now I just changes some label and made a few other minor changes.


Click Save and then Click Close. Click Save in the Workflow Setting screen. Now we will add just a simple logging action so we can publish our workflow and test the new Start Form.

Log in History List is located in the Operations Group so either open that group and on the left and drag the Log in History List action to the open square in the workflow or right-click on the square and select the action from there.

Notice the exclamation point in the Log in history list item once you have placed it in your workflow. This indicates that you need to do some configuration on that action. Click on the drop down arrow on the action and select Configure.

You can enter any text you want in the text box and insert variables and meta-data values from the associated list item. In this case I just want to log who the Project Manager is. I type the text “The Project Manager for this is: ” and then click the Insert Reference button. Notice the tabs at the top that give you several different options for the source of the information to insert. Click the Workflow Variables tab and then select ProjectManager and click OK.


Click Save and you should now see that the exclamation point has gone away. Now we have a very simple workflow that we can publish. Click the Publish button in the ribbon, enter any Change Comments and click Submit. After the workflow has published you can click the Close button in the ribbon to exit Nintex Workflow. If you now go back into the list/library in which you created the workflow and add an item or upload a file we can test the workflow. Click the drop down arrow on the file name and select Workflows.


Click on the workflow you just created.


You should see the Start screen that you created. Select users for the 3 Approvers and the Project Manager and add some Approval Text and click Start. You can then go into the Workflow Information screen by clicking the drop down arrow next to the file name, selecting Workflows and then Clicking on your workflow in the bottom section “Completed Workflows”.


You should now see in the workflow history section and event with a description that tells you who you selected as a Project Manager.


Just to recap, in this blog post I showed you how to create a Nintex Workflow, Set some basic properties, Add Variables, Edit the Start Form, Add and Configure a basic Action, Publish and run you workflow. In my next blog posts I will continue to build upon this workflow in order to demonstrate some more advanced functionality of Nintex Workflow.