How does SharePoint workflow automation work?

SharePoint Workflow automation allows you to eliminate manual processes and errors from your business processes. They are often depicted as flowcharts, as they are based on customisable conditions which can be automated for your specific needs.

Ultimately, workflows are composed of specific, often compartmentalised tasks, like events, actions, or other triggers that link together to create intelligent outcomes from a variety of inputs. The beauty of most workflows is that they can be customised by your organisation, from large, slow-paced 6-month workflows, to daily workflows with a singular function.

In this blog, we explore how SharePoint workflow automation works and what some of the benefits are.


What workflows are included with SharePoint?

Firstly, let’s have a look at the key SharePoint workflows. There are five pre-programmed SharePoint templates that you can customise and use. Once you specify what options you want to employ, you can sit back and let the workflow do the hard work for you. Below is a short summary of the five major pre-programmed workflows that you can work within SharePoint.


Approval Workflow

An Approval Workflow ensures that documents are routed to relevant people so they can approve or reject them. This allows documents to be controlled before they are published. This is a fundamental component of our SharePoint Policy and Contract Management Systems, as these focus on the publication and control of policies and contracts within organisations. By setting up automated workflows, you can ensure that no documents are published or shared without direct approval from relevant parties, including external contacts, if necessary.


Collect Feedback Workflow

A Collect Feedback Workflow routes document to relevant people for feedback, similar to the Approval Workflow. This can be sent to several participants, who can then provide their feedback. This is then consolidated, collated, and stored so that it can be reviewed if necessary.


Collect Signature Workflow

The Collect Signatures Workflow routes a Microsoft Office document to a specified person to request a digital signature. This workflow only works with InfoPath Forms, Word Documents, and Excel Workbooks.


Three-State Workflow

A Three-State Workflow tracks the status of a list item throughout three states. It allows you to manage and track business processes, especially high-volume items, like customer support messages, sub-projects, sales leads, or signups.

As your item proceeds through the different transitions, the workflow assigns tasks to relevant individuals and updates them about specific action points relating to that task. Once complete, the workflow will automatically update the status and move onto the next phase.


Publishing Approval Workflow

A Publishing Approval Workflow routes content to the people who need to approve it, similar to some of the preceding workflows we’ve looked at. However, it is different in that it is tailored specifically to publish sites where publishing ‘new and updated web pages are tightly controlled.’ This ensures that no new content can be published until it has been approved by each approver that has been added to the workflow, which makes it easy for you to get sign off from all the relevant stakeholders and managers within your department.


Setting up a SharePoint Workflow

The first thing you’ll need to do is to choose and plan the workflow that best suits your particular requirements. Once you’ve added the workflow, you can then customise and configure it to your needs. After this, you can start/publish the workflow, which will allow you to monitor how it performs. You can find out more about your workflow in the Workflow Status Page, which might help you make relevant adjustments in the future if needed.


The cost of ignoring automated workflows

While this may sound logical, there are plenty of businesses out there that refuse to modernise their business systems and automate their most important workflows. But there are countless studies that prove that inefficiencies, like the lack of automated workflows, cost businesses between 20 and 30 per cent extra. While it can take some time to set up, a properly configured workflow can save your business substantial amounts of time and money.

However, it also ensures that important documents are always subject to the same conditions and criterium, like approval systems, which can increase the reliability of your systems.


A few benefits of SharePoint Workflow automation:

  • Accessing multiple workflows from one central portal helps you keep your business processes organised.
  • Collaboration and co-operation become easier with automated approval requests that go directly to the relevant people/departments.
  • Reminders and notifications get sent out automatically, which keeps you updated about workflow progress.
  • All relevant information and data are stored within one central system in SharePoint.
  • Issues get resolved quickly and policies and contracts get implemented as quickly as possible.
  • Faster approval process, without any of the traditional uncertainty or manual chasers.
  • Business intelligence is concentrated in replicable systems, and not individuals.

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