7 Ways to Automate Workflows Using SharePoint

We often hear from customers that are interested in using SharePoint to automate workflows. Not only can it be done, it can be done several ways. This blog will help you better understand how to automate workflows using SharePoint and the tools that you might consider.

1. Use Alerts in SharePoint to Improve Processes

A simple alert may be all you need to improve a legacy process. We have built very sophisticated workflows, but for some clients, they are only looking to be notified when action may have been taken on an item in SharePoint. SharePoint allows you customize the assigned to columns on a Task List or an Issues Log (both allow you to send an email to a user). To create an alert in SharePoint Online, simply follow these instructions;

  • Open the document library and hover over the file, link, or folder for which you want to get an alert, and click the check mark.
  • Click the ellipses (…) to the right of the item name, and then click Alert Me.
  • In the Alert me when items change dialog, select and change the options you want.
  • Click OK when done.
Screenshot of the "new alert" dialog box in SharePoint Online
You can set up alerts in SharePoint to notify specific people when action may be required.

2. Use the Content Approval Feature in SharePoint to Improve Workflows

Content approval is a desirable workflow feature that often solves for the challenge that our clients are seeking to solve. By using this feature, you can ensure that an item or file is approved (and is the “official” version of the asset) before the content becomes visible to most site users.

Screenshot of the Content Approval dialog window in SharePoint Online.
Content Approval can be used for one-way approval or help in ensuring published content is accurate and “official”.

By requiring content approval, organization’s are improving the quality and the security to their content in their lists and libraries.

Content approval can also be used for one-way content approvals. We use a content approval workflow at Kiefer for vacation requests.

3. Use Built-In SharePoint Workflows

SharePoint has several built-in workflows that address common business scenarios.  Out-of-the-box workflows can be used for collecting signatures, feedback, or approvals. Built-in workflows are also commonly used to track the status of a routine procedure. SharePoint’s built-in workflows can be customized to meet your organization’s specific needs, but you will be limited in the amount of customization. 

There are a number of out-of-the-box (built-in) workflows available for you in SharePoint. These pre-built workflows allow you to automate and optimize a simple workflow.  Here is what is available:

  • Approval (route a document or item for approval or rejection)
  • Collect Feedback (route a document or item for feedback)
  • Collect Signatures (route a document, workbook, or form for digital signatures)
  • Three-State (track an issue, project, or task through three states or phase)
  • Publishing Approval (automate content routing for review and approval)

You may find that you may need to invest in a more robust tool in order to tailor the workflow to meet your business requirements.

Banner to download a free infographic on Kiefer Simple Solutions

4. Build Workflows Using SharePoint Designer

Since the introduction of SharePoint Online and Microsoft Flow, we’ve seen less of SharePoint Designer. We still do encounter SharePoint Power Users that are designing no-code workflows for a specific list or library by using Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2013. 

SharePoint Designer workflows are created from a list of available workflow activities, and the person who creates the workflow can deploy the workflows directly to the list or library where they will be used.  Designer is a common solution for developers that are building workflows in SharePoint, however, we have been working with several customers to move workflows that were previously built in Designer to Nintex and Microsoft Flow.

5. Use Visual Studio to Build Workflows

 For the tech-savvy, you might consider using Visual Studio to build SharePoint workflows. Visual Studio offers a great deal of flexibility and customization for your workflows and allows you to create workflows that support more than one business process. In Visual Studio, you can create templates and deploy to multiple SharePoint sites. Visual Studio offers the flexibility to build complex workflows, however, it will require more developmental effort and developer knowledge.

6. Use Microsoft Flow to Build Workflows

Microsoft Flow is an online workflow service to automate events across the most common apps and services. Microsoft Flow also allows you to manage data either in the cloud or in on-premises sources like SharePoint and Microsoft SQL Server. We see Microsoft Flow as a Microsoft’s answer to automating processes enabling users to quickly build workflows in SharePoint, an effort that had been typically reserved for those with technical expertise.

Screenshot of Microsoft Flow being used to automate workflow in SharePoint
Screenshot of Microsoft Flow being used to automate workflow in SharePoint

7. Use Nintex Workflow Designer to Build Workflows

Your organization might consider Nintex Workflow Designer if you can’t get the features they need from SharePoint Designer, lack the skills to build workflows in Visual Studio, or need a solution that can provide more functionality than Microsoft.

Banner to download a free infographic on building a better workflow

The Nintex platform has a user-friendly “drag-and-drop” interface and allows for rapid creation of workflows.  Users will have the ability to automate processes ranging from basic business functions to company-wide workflows with just a few clicks.  We have worked with clients to automate common business processes as well as building one-off workflows that are unique to that client.

Our team has deep expertise in Nintex and we were recognized in 2019 as a finalist in the Annual Nintex Partner Awards. As a Nintex partner, Kiefer has the skills to help you build workflows in Nintex and share best practices.

The Secret to Successful Digital Transformation

When you start automating processes and implementing digital workflows, you are making investments in digital business transformation. Be sure to read our recent blog, The 5 Common Pitfalls of Digital Business Process Transformation, for additional insights.  Our very own Andy Coyle identifies why so many automation and process optimization initiatives fail.  Kiefer’s team of Analysts and Project Managers have expertise in organizational change management (OCM) and the fundamentals of process transformation. 

We can support you in identifying the technology solution that can help you in automating and optimizing business processes. Furthermore, we can assist you in deploying new technology and help you in facilitating adoption of the improved process.


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