Business process automation involves leveraging technology to transform and streamline a manual process so that it becomes more cost and time-efficient. It takes an everyday business process, such as filing documents or onboarding new employees, and moves all physical documents and related workflows from filing cabinets to one centralized, web-based system. One technology that can be utilized in business process automation is Microsoft SharePoint. Learn how SharePoint utilizes workflows to improve operational efficiency by automating business processes below.
To begin, let’s make sure that you know what a workflow actually is. A workflow is the series of tasks that are performed to produce a result in a business process. For example, consider the process Company A follows to purchase supplies:
- Employee creates supply list.
- Employee sources the supplies.
- Employee generates purchase order.
- Administrator reviews purchase order (approves or rejects order).
- Buyer places approved order or Employee starts back at stage 1.
- Company A receives the supplies.
Now, if the administrator at Company A did not approve the purchase order, then the order would need to be adjusted until it was approved. One way to visualize this workflow is through a flowchart. A flowchart for Company A’s supply order process would look like this:
SharePoint workflows are like an automated flowcharts that help to standardize business processes. SharePoint workflows automate standard processes by moving documents, lists, or libraries through a sequence of actions. In the case of Company A, a SharePoint workflow would notify the Administrator that the purchase order was ready to review. Subsequently, once the Administrator had reviewed the purchase order, the employee would be notified of the status of the purchase order (approved or rejected). By automating this workflow, Company A is able to improve consistency in the business process by attaching logic to the interaction. The instructions for action are clearly defined and there is no guesswork as to what should happen next.
An important feature that makes SharePoint workflows especially useful is the tracking feature. Whereas with a manual workflow the process can only be tracked by asking each individual involved in the process what the status is, with SharePoint an Administrator can see right where any bottlenecks are occurring and resolve the problem more efficiently. Another way that SharePoint automation can help to streamline workflows is by making companies think purposefully about the steps that will be required to complete each workflow. Often times, there are extra steps that can be removed to re-engineer the business process and allow the workflow to be completed more efficiently, thus saving the company time and money!
Now that you understand workflows, let’s explore how you can utilize SharePoint workflows to automate your business processes. There are 5 workflows pre-programmed into SharePoint: signature, approval, publishing, three-state, and feedback. Here are the basics about each type:
Although the pre-programmed workflows cover a lot, some business processes are particularly complicated and may require a custom workflow to be created. Custom workflows can be created using Workflow Designer to define the rules that associate conditions and actions with SharePoint documents, lists, and libraries. Often times, it is helpful to have a SharePoint expert (like us!) to assist you with developing your custom workflows.