SharePoint’s flexibility is one of its biggest selling points.
In theory, it provides a multitude of capabilities through out-of-the-box applications and tools accessible to users of all skill levels.
When it comes to automating repeat processes, that capability takes the form of SharePoint Designer workflows.
A successor of Microsoft FrontPage, new versions of SharePoint Designer were released in 2007, 2010 and 2013 (accompanying the new SharePoint platforms that came out in the same years).
But instead of the expected release of SharePoint Designer 2016 when SharePoint 2016 was released last year, it was instead announced the tool would be discontinued, making SharePoint Designer 2013 the final iteration.
SharePoint Designer is an HTML editor tool that allows users to create SharePoint solutions—from web publishing to data integration and business intelligence—as well as offering a more granular view over your SharePoint Site objects, from creating and editing Lists and Libraries and Content Types to Site Pages, Subsites and Site Groups.
A capable and useful tool for creating no-code solutions, its ease of use also extends to creating SharePoint Designer workflows.
But, does it offer you the power you need for modern workflow creation?
Understanding SharePoint Designer Workflows
Using SharePoint Designer 2013 and the SharePoint Workflow platform, you can create SharePoint Designer workflows related to specific Lists, Libraries or Sites in your environment.
You can also create reusable workflows and apply them to multiple Lists, Libraries or Sites. And doing so is straight forward.
From within the workflow pane, you can simply select the workflow you want to create and a new dialog box will appear. From there, you just title your workflow and add the necessary events—Actions, Conditions, Stages, Steps and Loops—to trigger and automate a process.
As this Dev Center article points out, building a SharePoint Designer workflow in a no-code, text-based environment is clear and straightforward. This simplicity was (and still is) one of the main reasons behind SharePoint Designer workflow is popular—the lack of technical knowledge required of users means information workers, business analysts and SharePoint developers alike can all create workflows.
Workflows have evolved…
In today’s fast moving enterprise, even a tool that’s only four years old can soon stop feeling fit for purpose.
Consider just how much the SharePoint platform has changed since 2013, when cloud computing was just beginning to take off. Today, more than 250,000 organizations and over 85% of Fortune 500 companies use SharePoint Online as part of Office 365.
Given the way SharePoint Designer 2013 allowed any and all users the ability to create workflows in SharePoint, many users were disappointed the tool wouldn’t be transitioning to SharePoint 2016 and SharePoint Online in Office 365.
That’s not to say you can’t use SharePoint Designer 2013 in the cloud.
It’s still freely available to download and use in SharePoint Online. But with its roots on-premises, you’re likely to run into some limitations when trying to take this functionality to the cloud in SharePoint Online. That comes alongside the more general limitations to SharePoint Designer; dedicated to being easy to use for end-users, the tool is fairly limited in terms of power and flexibility when designing workflows.
…you need to evolve with them
For the more tech-savvy, Visual Studio is the alternative for building SharePoint workflows. It allows for more flexibility and customization over your workflows.
That flexibility means you can create workflows that support more business processes, creating templates which can be deployed to multiple sites. Perhaps the biggest difference is the fact that using Visual Studio, you can include SharePoint workflows as part of a broader SharePoint solution or Add-in.
Of course, building more complex workflows will require more developmental effort and developer knowledge, and as such is more targeted at intermediate or advanced software developers.
For those that don’t have enough time or knowledge (or time to learn!) to create workflows in a tool like Visual Studio, but require more complex workflows and more functionality than SharePoint Designer 2013 can offer, you may feel like you are at an impasse.
But dedicated workflow automation tools can make designing workflows far easier than it used to be.
Nintex Workflow Designer
Nintex Workflow for SharePoint builds on the foundations of SharePoint Designer, but with much greater power and a drag-and-drop interface for intuitive and rapid creation of workflows.
Your users can tackle everything from basic business functions to company-wide processes with a few clicks.
Nintex for SharePoint also includes a variety of Workflow Connectors to leading software, from file sharing tools like Dropbox to social media platforms like Facebook and email automation systems like MailChimp. And as it is embedded straight into SharePoint and accessible via your browser, you can do it all in the SharePoint infrastructure you already have.
Get up and running in seconds, and designing workflows in minutes.