The more steps there are in a business process the more efficiency is to be gained from automating it. As it becomes ever more important to be able to channel documents and information between workers in different locations, who are working on a variety of desktop and mobile devices, businesses are beginning to look at workflow automation as a key to remaining competitive. SharePoint provides a ready platform for workflows, and many companies that rely on it for document-sharing and collaboration already have many of the parts they need in place to set up an automated process. The catch is that using SharePoint Designer to create workflows often results in solutions that would make Rube Goldberg pull out his hair.
Nintex is a platform that makes creating forms and workflows in SharePoint much simpler and much quicker. And the simplicity of the software makes it far easier to make changes down the road. SharePoint Architect Scott Walsh says this flexibility was what originally sold him on the platform. “If you already have SharePoint, you probably don’t want to buy another product.” But, he explains, “Getting to the end of a project and having to make even little changes was a big source of scope creep when we were working with workflows that were just really complicated.” By keeping things simple throughout the process, though, his team was able to make those last-minute adjustments in much less time.
Walsh says he now considers three options for automating clients’ processes in SharePoint:
1. No workflow
For some purposes, all you need to do is find a simple way to surface information. For instance, to create an onboarding process for new employees, you may be able to use features like Search and metadata tagging to set up a page that walks them through all the necessary steps. This would be pretty quick to implement and probably wouldn’t require any custom coding.
2. SharePoint Designer
Walsh applies a basic rule of thumb in situations where a workflow is called for. If the process has five steps or fewer, like many approval or routing tasks, then the team builds it with SharePoint Designer. But, if it has more than 5 steps, they now use Nintex.
Walsh’s sense of the distinction between SharePoint Designer and Nintex is that “One was created by developers looking to make it work for potentially anything, while the other was created with business users in mind to make it work for actual business processes.” In other words, one is developer-centric while the other is business-centric. With real-world business scenarios in mind, Nintex provides elements and functions that you simply drag-and-drop onto the pages where you need them. With these tools, it’s really easy to pull in information from various sources, like Office 365, OneDrive, Dropbox, or from other third-party systems. And each of the elements you create can be repurposed and reused for other workflows—something that’s really difficult in SharePoint Designer.
Nintex Forms and Mobile Apps
Many workflows are kicked off when an employee or customer fills out a form. For instance, Walsh describes a proof of concept project he worked on in collaboration with a client with franchises all over the US. The idea is that anytime a park visitor sustains an injury a park employee can use a mobile device to fill out an incident report. Nintex Forms allowed them to create the template of the report, and the service also includes a free mobile app, so building the mobile report form was really easy. SharePoint has a set of tools called InfoPath for building forms, but here again Nintex Forms makes the process much easier.
Whenever an incident occurs, an employee pulls up the form on an Apple, Android, or Windows device, and then fills in all the necessary information, which in turn gets channeled to all the designated administrators and stored for future reference. The sample form even uses a geolocation action so the incident can be placed on a map (which can be accessed for later analysis by Power BI).
Return on Investment
So Nintex is pretty cool, but if you’re like most of us you probably wonder why you should invest in yet another platform when you’ve already made the investment in SharePoint, which after all provides you with all the tools you need to create workflows. The answer is that by saving countless developer hours from going down the drain on last-minute changes to overly complex software, and by creating better, more efficient workflows, you actually end up saving a great deal of money—helping you to maximize the return on your investment in SharePoint.
The independent IT institute Forrester Research conducted a survey of businesses using Nintex and found that the platform paid itself off for all of them in an average of just 10½ months. The average 3-year risk-adjusted ROI was 176%, as user productivity increased from 8% to 15%. So the bottom line is that Nintex isn’t just a set of tools that makes life easier for your developers. It’s a good investment that has the potential to accelerate workflow creation and streamline any number of your business processes.