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Which Workflow Engine is Right for Your Business?

A workflow engine is a set of rules and logic that transforms manual processes into an automated system. A workflow engine is incredibly useful when work includes repeatable manual processes or consumes too much time or resources to keep work moving.

There are three workflow engines used in business today: built-in, third-party and cloud-based.

Built-in Workflow Technology: The Bare and Basic

Thanks to the versatility of many business collaboration platforms such as SharePoint, Salesforce or Box, a lot of big companies are already familiar with workflow automation. Although these platforms alone aren’t workflow engines, some of them do offer basic workflow capabilities.

Certain businesses can operate with these built-in features, especially if they only need workflows in the environment they store their documents.

There are both benefits and challenges to the built-in workflow technology:

  • Convenience:

    Most companies are already operating on collaboration platforms like SharePoint, so it is convenient and economical to just use the attached workflow features.

  • Content-centric:

    Collaboration platforms are excellent for storing and transferring documents, so their workflows are perfect for content-heavy activities.

  • Command limitation:

    Since workflow is not necessarily the main focus of these platforms, they tend to have a less robust design, leaving users with fewer tools to design complex workflows. For that reason, built-in engines are more suitable for personal, simple, non-enterprise processes.

  • Custom code:

    Platforms like SharePoint provide users with custom coding and design ability, allowing users to create more complex workflows. However, custom coding requires specific technical knowledge.

  • Collaborative limitation:

    Since the workflow technology is built right inside of a larger platform, it tends to be suitable when used with only that platform. However, in a highly collaborative business setting, many companies opt to look for an engine that can branch out and do more.

Third-Party Engine: Additional Power and User-Friendly Design

Businesses can choose to operate a workflow system on top of the built-in engine. These third-party systems, like Nintex for SharePoint, can offer additional capabilities to enhance the collaborative platform’s basic workflow features.

Here are some reasons why businesses should seek an add-on workflow engine:

  • Simple integration:

    Third-party workflow engines are designed to work on top of collaboration platforms, so they take less time to get up and running. The engines are embedded right into the platform, so businesses can operate these workflows inside of an infrastructure they’re already familiar with.

  • Synchronized systems:

    Third-party workflow engines make use of existing features of platforms and add their own powerful engine to the operation. With a third-party engine, you can create workflows that can support more business processes.

  • Strictly dependent:

    In order to use a third-party engine, processes need to operate on a collaboration platform. Workflows usually operate within the platform or start from the platform before connecting with other software – which is great for businesses that mainly operate on that single platform. However, there is not much room for the engine to evolve and advance since it is dependent on the base platform.

  • Straightforward user interface:

    Third-party engines provide easier ways to create workflow commands: drag and drop, low-code and no-code. This helps encourage the citizen developer, helping everyone in the company to create their own workflows.

  • Software connectors:

    Users can connect their workflows to external applications and not be confined to one platform. For example, MailChimp, Facebook and LinkedIn are can be connected to SharePoint through a third-party workflow, allowing users to work with other software on the SharePoint infrastructure.

Cloud-Based Workflow Engine: Total Independence and Freedom to Collaborate

Cloud-based workflow engines provide users with total independence and control by not being tied to any particular infrastructure, allowing a wide breadth of functionality and flexibility. Some enterprise companies are implementing these types of engines for increased flexibility and functionality.

Factors to consider include:

  • Freedom and flexibility:

    Independent engines let companies pick and choose software products, then integrate the most suitable ones into their workflows. Users can design their workflows to start and end with whichever connectors they find most suitable.

  • Precise control:

    Users have total control over what role software plays in a workflow, especially when companies deal with more complex workflow situations. It is almost like building with Lego blocks – users are free to use whichever capabilities in whatever form to best solve their business’ unique process challenges.

  • Powerful engine:

    Cloud-based workflow systems are engineered with full independence in mind. Without needing to depend and operate on another collaboration platform, cloud-based engines are designed to maximize their power with no constraints. This also means that they are constantly evolving, adaptive and always up-to-date.

  • Painless creation process:

    Cloud-based engines are designed to handle sophisticated and highly intelligent workflows while offering an easy-to-use and intuitive interface. A good workflow experience creates ownership, provides control, eliminates bottlenecks and encourages independence, all while maintaining corporate governance and compliance.

  • Prime investment:

    A cloud-based engine is a worthy investment for operating sophisticated workflows. However, a platform-agnostic workflow engine could be unnecessary when users only need simple, non-enterprise workflows targeted to a single system of record.

Making the move to greater workflow and content automation is a major step in optimizing your business and increasing the pace of innovation. Understanding the various types of workflow engines and the best uses for each is critical to making the right selection for your company as you continue your digital transformation journey.

We hope you find these descriptions helpful as you continue your journey towards digital transformation.


Learn more about the Nintex offerings for SharePoint and Office 365 as third-party engines and its own cloud-based offering, Nintex Workflow Cloud.

Ready to try a workflow engine for yourself? Get a free trial of Nintex Workflow Platform or Nintex Workflow Cloud for 30 days!

Zoe Clelland

Zoe Clelland works as VP of Product & Experience, where she leads product management efforts across the Nintex Workflow Platform. She brings more than 15 years of defining every aspect of amazing digital user experiences to her role. Zoe holds a Ph.D. in Human Factors, Experimental Psychology from Texas Tech University.

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