MVP Thoughts: SharePoint Workflows & Forms in Today's Environment

Benjamin Niaulin
MVP Thoughts: SharePoint Workflows & Forms in Today's Environment

Working with SharePoint workflows & forms can be a bit of a challenge! Should you hire a developer to create custom forms for you or use the ones provided out-of-the-box by SharePoint? A lot of questions come up when looking at using workflows & forms in an organization.

Some fellow MVPs, and myself, got together to discuss the present and the future of SharePoint and Office 365. Let's not waste any time, and see what they had to say about SharePoint workflows and forms.



Benjamin: And of course, the big questions, the InfoPaths, the forms, the workflows. I wanna ask you, each of you, what are you doing today to solve that problem at the office? The forms, the workflows.

Corey: So, I guess I'll take my first shot at it. As a developer, we tend to just go on our own solution. Obviously, every time this forms conversation comes up, I think people lump it all together. What I mean by that is there's actually two different segments. There's end users or power users, and there's developers. Both of them actually wanna build forms. These scenarios are completely different. Obviously the end user, power user wants have to be much more user friendly, and developers are like, "Fine," and sling a little bit of code. But there's something to make our jobs easier, we love it. Right? So, from a developer standpoint, we're still building forums a lot the way we did years ago. We're making pages. We're using Javascript. We're submitting stuff...

Benjamin: Tie us back to being a web developer.

Corey: Yeah, all part of being a web developer. You do it- one way or another you're gonna call into an API and write your data wherever you want it to go, whether in Sharepoint or something else. So I think for us right now, I see people coming to us and say, "Hey build us a form still? Is it the most cost effective?" "No, but you're able to meet your requirements. Although you're gonna spend a little more money, right?" But if you want something that works well on mobile devices or something like that, I can build you that, obviously. What we have, with the tools that are included out of the box, that's a bit of a challenge.

Fabian: I think the story is- the story is evolving. For me, I'm trying to live in that mobile-first, cloud-first world. And I believe that as we start to build new applications for people, the consideration that we have to have is to build with the thought of mobile and then working it backward. The way that I think about the solution is that if you solve the mobile problem, you solve all the other problems that you're gonna have down the pipe anyway.

Because you're making something lighter, you're making it more responsive to use. So it already solves your performance problems. It already solves your usability, or it should solve your usability problems. Forms, in that aspect, then needs to be transformative that it can be used on an app. It can't be clunky. And in the end I believe that forms would have to evolve to solving a particular problem, right? So you're looking at a set of data, data points to bring to the form and you do it some validation there.

So I believe writing apps, whether you're using Cordova and making it more html file system and Javascript or you're doing something native or using the Xamarin or using Xcode, Swift or Java, I think that's the future of what forms have to be. It's not there yet. And a lot of people are making investments in InfoPath, I know, and it's gonna be a difficult conversation to have with them because people made bets on their careers saying, "We're gonna do InfoPaths." And we're telling them, "Hey, that has to evolve."

Jennifer: I think, I mean I agree with everything that you just said. But poor Karen in accounting that needs to create a simple form and a workflow has not given one iota of thought to performance and doesn't really need to, because she's given a tool and she expects that that tool behaves a certain way. So I think that there's multiple fronts on the forms in the workflow solution that needs to be solved. I do think that right now that foreign organization and the current state of things, they're gonna have a solution in the fall. They've been telling us that for many years. They just have not stated what fall.

Benjamin: Which fall is that?

Jennifer: So they haven't said what fall it's coming, but one of these falls we're gonna have a solution. It's a hard problem because it needs to work. And it needs to work in the mobile-first, cloud-first. But it needs to work for developers and it needs to work for someone who's not gonna use any syntax or semicolons.

So what I say right now to organizations and the advice I'd give is that it is a strategic decision for what you guys are gonna do for forms. Because you're making an investment in whatever you do. If you really need, at this point in time, power users to be able to go in and build their own forms with no IT experience, then you need to purchase a third-party tool. So you need to look at different tools that are out there. There are many of them out there. You need to go and invest in a solution like that.

If you just need to do some apps, you know I like to look at things- United Ways as an example. What if I just need to use a form to collect United Way information for one year. You know what, it's not gonna matter if I just do it on InfoPath. If I'm going to build a new tracking system that's gonna impact the entire organization, I should be talking to a developer. So if it's impacting the entire company I take it out of the hands of end users. So if you're involved in something that's impacting the entire company, then give it up to a developer and if you and the developer decide maybe InfoPath is fine for what you're trying to do. But take it out of there. If it's a small, unimpactful event, keep using InfoPath. I know it's not the answer that people want, keep using it. If you need a strategy for everybody...

Benjamin: I think it really- it got big because, as they said they won't support you in 2023. But I think the first thing I say is when is the last time you called Microsoft?

Marc: No, it's later than 2023. Because they're...

Benjamin: Keep pushing it again. I mean I never call for support. And I mean it's fine. There's gonna be another- it's like as if in Sharepoint 2003, I would panic because they said that in Sharepoint 2016, they won't have x feature anymore. I'm like, "Ahh." Hopefully there'll be something else by then.

Jennifer: Yeah. So I just don't... It's a big deal, and people need to think about it. And if you're building nothing but InfoPath forms all day long, probably need to have a conversation, you know, get some therapy, get some love. But the rest of it, there's no alternative right now. And then we need to bug the bejebas out of Microsoft until they give us a tool to do it. And hopefully something is coming in the fall. One of these falls.

Marc: You know I'm always the contrarian, right? You caught on to that at all? I think, to me this is a bit something a bit of a mountain in molehill problem. I mean forms are not a thing. We use forms sometimes in our lives. We type stuff into them and then data goes somewhere, right? The form is not a thing to us usually. InfoPath forms are way overkill for a lot of things. List forms are overkill for a lot of things. I mean note cards are fine too. Depends on what we're doing, right? So I think that we don't need a solution. And I think this is one of the problems that Microsoft has. We don't need a solution that don't goes everywhere from the simplest to the ultimate hardest. We need a bunch of things that will solve those problems in relatively easy ways.

InfoPath was part of that spectrum. Custom development is part of that spectrum. But we're also building a lot of single page apps now. Guess what? We put stuff in those. We type stuff. Is that a form? Well, it's not really. We're putting ways for people to enter stuff in lots of different places on a screen. So the whole concept of forms as a thing I think is sort of overblown. And then we haven't talked much about workflow this year. But the fact that everyone seems to wanna conflate forms and workflow, to me, is also a mistake. They're separate things. You need to be able to put data in so that goes into a database.

And then what happens with that data is a separate concept. So we don't have to have them all, these perfect tools meshed with perfect workflows to solve the most complex problems in the world for us to move forward. We need all the bits and pieces that will work for the different users.

Jennifer: And I think most people don't care what the tool is that comes back.

Marc: Nobody cares.

Jennifer: I just wanna be able to do this. I want to be able to quickly get my job done efficiently, take advantage of tools without having to call IT. And there's a lot of ways they can solve that... in the fall.

Marc: Whatever that fall means.

Benjamin: So I guess the answer is keep on waiting or... I guess that's the answer.

Marc: Keep on doing things, right? I mean your businesses isn't gonna stop. If you need a new form, you're gonna build a new form in Word or InfoPath or whatever it is and just deal with it.

Jennifer: And whatever they come out with, I mean if we look at the path that they've taken for other releases, we're gonna end up with a group scenario. We're gonna end up with a solution that they give us that we're gonna be like, "What?" And then we're gonna have to keep watching and waiting. In the mean time, what are we gonna do? We're gonna just kinda have to keep working, working through it and then keep giving our feedback and see where the product goes.

Benjamin: Excellent. Thanks everyone for joining. We talked about a lot of things today. We talked about the On-Premises release, what should developers do or focus on in the future. We talked about groups. We talked about where to invest your efforts as well as the power user, and many aspects of groups versus team sites and what we can do. And then lastly we finished with forms and workflows and what we could do. So before we end, again, I wanna thank each and every one of you for coming all the way here at the Sharegate office and filming some of the funny videos that you'll see somewhere on the internet. But before we finish, just sort of maybe remind everyone that's watching who you are and where they can maybe reach you, blog or website, company. Corey?

Corey: Sure. Thanks again for having us. You can find me, again, my name is Corey Roth. You can find my Twitter at that same name, @coreyroth, C-O-R-E-Y-R-O-T-H. And of course my blog at

Benjamin: By the way, it's where I learned a lot about search. So definitely check that out. Entity extraction, No Metadata? No Problem! My favorite blog post.

Jennifer: I love it. Jennifer Mason. You can get me on Twitter at @jennifermason or my blog, I host a bi-weekly show on IT Unity called Office 365 Pulse where we go in and talk about all the changes that have been happening to Office 365, the newest releases. And then I often have a guest host where we keep a topic much like today and we just discuss what's going on. So hopefully we will see you out there.

Benjamin: And it's fun.

Fabian: My name is Fabian Williams. And you can reach me on Twitter at @fabianwilliams. And I blog also at, usually on topics around Azure, mobile, BizTalk, BCS, workflows.

Marc: And I'm Marc Anderson. I'm known as sympmarc at just about anywhere that I'm making accounts somewhere. S-Y-M-P-M-A-R-C. I have a blog. Http... Oh well, we know that part, right? and on Twitter, @sympmarc. So thanks again for having us here, Ben. It's been a lot of fun.

Benjamin: It's been a lot of fun. Thank you everyone. Have an awesome day.

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