Friday, 5 September 2008

SharePoint’s Simple Workflow

Midnight on Monday saw the close of the transfer window so for many football fans it was a late night. Some were following developments on the internet and others were tuned into Sky Sports News, all waiting for news of a major signing for their team. As a Villa fan the last minute striker signing didn’t materialise, but when the radio alarm woke me up shortly after 6am the following morning I wished for some SharePoint Workflow in my life. Why did I need SharePoint Workflow? Because getting ready for work in the morning involves a number of very mundane routine tasks. They are probably the same in most homes across Britain. My normal morning routine is feed cats, make breakfast, empty dish washer, pack lunch-box and empty bins. As you see hardly inspiring and although this is often done on auto-pilot there is still a lot of room for mistakes. Many a time, I have arrived at work minus my blue plastic lunch-box, or returned home to find three very cross cats staring at an empty bowl. So I think I need some ‘Automated Workflow’ to manage all my morning rituals. Workflow is one of the hidden gems of SharePoint and you don’t even need to have full MOSS to use it. Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 with the help of that clever software SharePoint Designer can let you create some very advanced Workflow. In SharePoint Workflow is simply a string of automated ‘Actions’. Each one being initiated when a defined ‘Condition’ occurs. Going back to the example of Andy’s morning (okay, perhaps it isn’t clever enough to perform these manual tasks but the theory is good). First task is ‘Feed Cats’, well in SharePoint Designer world we could enter a ‘Condition’ of ‘When new day starts with 6am alarm’ it sets off the ‘Action’ of filling one of the cat bowls with that very cheap dried catfood, the cats like from Lidl that costs less than £2 for four days, and the other bowl with water. In your SharePoint organisation this could be sending Request Form to three different Document Libraries if a form is submitted with the time of greater than 6am in the Time field. After the cats have been fed you could calculate the level of catfood remaining and if it is below a certain level an email could be automatically sent to my wife asking her to purchase another packet or the Weekly ‘Dale Shopping List’ could be updated to include catfood. SharePoint Designer allows you to insert 24 different types of Actions in your SharePoint workflow. These include sending emails, updating lists, deleting items, date-time stamping and adding to Task Lists. These many Actions can be applied to 7 different Conditions. It might not sound a lot seven but when you realise that these can cover any of the fields in any of the lists and that you can use any of twelve Condition Statements (i.e. Contains, Begins with, Does not include, Greater than, etc) you soon realise that you have hundreds of possible Conditions. More choices than I have for my breakfast. The Breakfast Workflow on SharePoint could be as follows; Condition – A form is submitted and the field Breakfast Equals Toast Action – Email Toaster “ ANDY requires 2 slices of WHITE toast.” When the Email is created in the Action section you could define who receives the email and also add items from the fields in the submitted form to the Subject, or Body of the message. This can be a completely automated process. You will see in the Action above that the name of the breakfaster, the number of slices required and the type of bread have come from the submitted form. The toaster could then change a status entry on the form from ‘Requested’ to ‘Toasted’ automatically and this could be passed to the plate. The workflow could then add butter and a type of jam as appropriate and then send the full plate back to the user (ANDY) who submitted the original breakfast request. The Workflow could then move on to emptying the dishwasher and making the sandwiches for lunch. Well, it could automate emails being sent to the servants requesting these operations - if we had any! With the aid of SharePoint Workflow many routine clerical tasks can be automated. Officetalk have been involved in automating many tasks for customers over the last few months. These have included Invoice Processing, Holiday Request Systems, Room Booking, Project Approval Systems, Expenses Submitting Systems, IT Helpdesk and New Employee Creating. The Consultants at Officetalk are always up for the challenge of more SharePoint Workflow. Two pieces of advice when using SharePoint Designer to perform Workflow; Firstly, you don’t need to perform all the steps in one workflow. It makes life easier for you to manage and find problems if you do each stage as a separate Workflow. You can use as many ‘Conditional Branches’ as you wish, but try to avoid designing too many Workflow Steps. If in doubt create a new Workflow. Secondly, if you have applied Service Pack 1 to WSS 3.0 you will need to add the following hotfix http://support.microsoft.com/kb/953749/ because Microsoft somehow forgot to test if automated Workflow worked when they released this service pack. Instead Workflow only worked if it was started ‘manually’. So don’t panic, if your Workflow doesn’t work at first, just make sure you have the hotfix. I guess I had better empty the bins then before I leave for work. Oh, and I’ll just check the Villa website again - just in case..

6 comments:

nittya said...

What Workflows are Available in WSS 3.0?

The only workflow that comes with WSS 3.0 is designed to be used with Issue Tracking Lists, and is called the Three-State Workflow.

SharePoint

Poker Championship Group said...

Hi,

How can one schedule a workflow to execute at the end of each month?

Thanks

Chris

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