Sunday, July 15, 2007

SharePoint workflows

We have spent the week converting our old SharePoint 2003 site into a new SharePoint 2007 site. We loved the old SharePoint but the new 2007 version is even better if that is possible. One of our favourite features so far has gotta be wikis and search. We have entered all our in-house knowledge base as a wiki and now we can do a search on the content. This is great when you are out on a customers site and need to remember something you've got documented. Simply dial up SharePoint remotely, do a search and bingo there's the info you need. Make you look like a hero in the eyes of the client.

However, we feel that the greatest asset of SharePoint 2007 will be its ability to handle workflow. Simply put, this means that you can systemize a business process. For example you can create a document library that contains an expense spreadsheet template. To lodge a new expense claim you create a new file from the template and save it back to the document library. Once saved the workflow kicks in prompting other SharePoint users to approve the expenses. Once they have approved it the information can be forwarded to someone else for payment. How many businesses processes do comapnies have that would benefit from workflow? We know we have heaps and are sure most other people do as well.

Well, after coming to grips with most of what the new version of Sharepoint has to offer we decided that it was time to conquer workflows. We were disappointed to find that out of the box Windows Sharepoint Server only comes with one workflow. Office Sharepoint Server has more but surely there must be others available for Windows Sharepoint. Next stop Google. Unfortunately, not much luck here we could find any pre-built add on workflows we could simply import into Sharepoint. What now?

After a bit more research we discovered that you can create your own workflows usin Microsoft Sharepoint designer 2007. Now we've used Microsoft Frontpage extensively to create all sorts of web sites but Sharepoint Designer certainly appears to be a step closer to a designer tool like Visual Studio. Not to be intimidated we started looking at the inbuilt help for the product and was surprised at helpful it really was.

We a short time later we had created and integrated our very first workflow into our Sharepoint 2007 site. It really was snap. Sure it is only a test workflow at this stage and it doesn't do anything flash but we can really see the power of Sharepoint designer now in just helping create workflows alone, never mind all the other cool stuff it can do with Sharepoint. Just imagine being able to walk into a business with Sharepoint designer and automate a business process then and there. Then imagine being able to create “standard” workflows that you can install on other Sharepoint sites. Just imagine.

If you thought Sharepoint 2007 was a revolution, try combining with Sharepoint designer, then you'll really see what can be done. There is not doubt in our mind, Sharepoint 2007 is going to be a HUGE product for Microsoft.