A couple of years ago, there was only one choice when it came to the question “Where to host our SharePoint implementation” - namely, On-Premises. Now, however, there are two options: On-Premises (either in your own datacenter, or hosted in a cloud such as Azure), or Office 365.
The differences in functionality between these two are slight in some areas, yet may be huge in others. This post focuses on typical workflow scenarios, Nintex workflows, and differences in workflow functionality between SharePoint On-Premises and Office 365.
Every company has workflows: automate them
Ask a random person “What is SharePoint?”, and if they’ve heard of it, they’ll probably describe it as an Intranet or document management system. While this is true, the feature set is much richer: SharePoint is a social platform, has record management capabilities, can host public websites, and provides a platform to host your workflows.
In every company, no matter the size, workflows drive day-to-day business. When a new employee joins, a process starts to make sure he/she has all the tools they need - a desk, a computer, a company account and so on.
Requesting payment by sending invoices is another example of a workflow every company has: Send an invoice -> verify payment has been received -> store the invoice for tax purposes.
While all these workflows can be done manually, automating them can streamline business processes and save time. Automated workflows are also less prone to errors as no required steps get missed and everyone who needs to be informed receives an email.
There are differences between SharePoint On-Premises and Office 365 workflows.
First we'll discuss some examples of when companies use workflows, before describing the differences between On-Premises and Office 365.
Popular usage of workflows in SharePoint
Probably the most frequently used workflow in SharePoint is the Document Approval workflow. Some documents created by employees need to be formally approved before they can be processed further. For example, a formal letter to another company must be approved by the legal department before it can be sent.
Document Approval workflows in SharePoint have the following features:
Automatically start the approval workflow when a document is checked in, or skip when the user has certain permissions;
Sequential or parallel approval;
Send reminders to the approvers when they forget to review the document.
Another very popular workflow is the on-boarding process, as mentioned earlier. This usually requires multiple departments to carry out actions: HR needs to set up a desk, IT needs to order a laptop, facilities needs to do a health and safety tour.
In a manual process, it’s easy to forget one step, but by automating workflows, you can ensure that no step is forgotten, progress can be monitored and people get reminders when they forget their responsibilities. This isn't a workflow available out-of-the-box, but can be configured easily using the available tools.
Nintex makes life a lot easier
Nintex is by far the most popular add-on for SharePoint when it comes to workflow development. SharePoint offers decent tools to create custom workflows, like SharePoint Designer, but it lacks in certain areas.
For example, in an HR on-boarding process, it'd be nice to automatically create an Active Directory account. Without Nintex, this would require a lot of complicated coding. Calling a web service, for example, also requires a developer to write code.
Nintex fills these gaps and brings a feature-rich workflow designer, loads of workflow actions, and impressive performance. Nintex runs on the SharePoint workflow infrastructure too, so no new hardware is required!
The differences in workflows between On-Premises and Office 365
There are a couple of differences between On-Premises vs Office 365 workflows. With On-Premises, it's possible to write server side code, and use that in a workflow as a custom action. In Office 365, server side code isn't allowed - it'd require hosting the code outside Office 365, in Azure as a custom web service.
When it comes to Nintex, there are differences as well. Approximately 80% of the functionality of On-Premises is now available in the cloud, and Nintex is working hard to bring everything to Office 365, but that takes some time. For example, calling Line-of-Business systems, like Payroll in an HR workflow, is currently impossible.
In most cases, the functionality available in Office 365 will suit a business’ needs, but in more advanced scenarios On-Premises will be required.
Automation will bring efficiency
Spending some time implementing workflows in SharePoint will make processes more efficient and less error-prone. While SharePoint out-of-the-box has great workflow capabilities, it may not be user friendly enough to create new workflows. Nintex is recommended for companies who want to build their own workflows, without needing to rely on the IT department.
Both Office 365 and SharePoint On-Premises allow a rich feature set for workflows, but the latter offers more features for the most advanced use cases. No reason then not to use them! And don't fear loosing them when migrating, 3rd party tools (like Sharegate!) will allow you to move them around easily.
Do you currently use workflows in your organization and recently moved to Office 365? What difficulties did you stumble upon?