Thursday, July 02, 2009

Why NOW is the Best Time to Get Started Developing SharePoint Designer Workflows

Regardless of the size of your organization, you are certainly looking for ways to save money in these difficult and uncertain economic times. That’s one of the reasons SharePoint has remained extremely popular during our present economic downturn—companies are only investing in those areas they know will provide huge returns quickly.
One of the areas where SharePoint, even the free WSS (Windows SharePoint Services), can quickly provide very high returns for your company is in the area of no-code workflows created with SharePoint Designer. Here are some of the reasons why:
1. SharePoint Designer Workflows are Easy to Write
When I started college back in 1985 one of my professors told me that in five years all programming would be plain-English programming, “You’ll just sit down in front of your computer and tell it what you want.” Well, 1990 came and went and here we are 19 years later. If you’ve seen C# code, then you know that all programming isn’t plain-English programming.
Workflows written with SharePoint Designer are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to plain-English programming. Everything you add to your workflow—and most of the configurations—are just selecting things from drop-down boxes and lists. There is no complicated syntax to learn or lists of command and functions to memorize.
2. SharePoint Designer Workflows Can Be Written by the Business Users Who Are Close to the Business Process
Once your organization has identified a particular business process that could benefit from some automation, you will usually either hire an outside programmer to write a customized program, or make use of a programmer inside your company. These programmers are usually very costly to hire and employ—they are also usually far removed from the business process you want to automate.
For example, let’s assume that you work in your company’s purchasing department. When an employee needs you to order something, she fills out a paper requisition form and send it to you via inter-office mail. When you get it, you contact her manager for approval. If it’s over a certain dollar amount, you may also need to get the approval of manager’s manager. Once you’ve received all the necessary approvals, you order the item and then communicate the expected delivery information to the person who requested it. If the requestor wants an update on the status, they call you, you get the information, then you call the requestor back with the information. On top of all this, you periodically call the requestor to see if the item has arrived so you can take it off your radar for tracking. If it’s late, you’ll need to contact the supplier. There is a lot of communication and tracking going on in this scenario.
You realize that your job could be a lot easier—and you could do more important work—if this process of requesting, approving, tracking, and communicating could be automated. So your company contracts a computer programmer to write a system to handle all this. After a few good meetings this programmer will eventually be able to understand the technical mechanics of your process. However, she probably will never fully understand how this process affects the entire company and how it is a component of the culture of your organization—only someone close to the business process understands those things.
It would be so much better if you, as the business user who has the full understanding of this process, could be the one to also automate the process. Because Microsoft designed SharePoint Designer workflows to be a tool for information workers and end users to use to automate their business processes, you can take control of the automation process without bringing in a costly programmer that doesn’t understand the full ramifications of the process.
3. SharePoint Designer Is Now FREE!
So, how much would you pay for a program that allowed your business users to automate business processes in near plain-English? $299.95? That’s what you would have paid a few months ago. However, Microsoft recently made SharePoint Designer 2007 available as a free download. It’s no longer cost prohibitive to allow end users to have access to this powerful program.
To get started writing your own workflows, download SharePoint Designer 2007 for free now.
4. There Are Lots of Great FREE Resources on SharePoint Designer Workflows
Have you visited our SharePoint Workflow Resource Center yet? If not, you really need to. You’ll find lots of information here including whitepapers, recorded webinars and demos, links to our best blog posts on SharePoint Designer workflows, a sample module from on of our workflow training courses, case studies, and much, much more. You really owe it to yourself to spend some time browsing this resource center.
5. Instructor-Led SharePoint Designer Workflow Training Is Very Affordable
Although SharePoint Designer workflows are easy to write, it’s likely that new users will benefit from some training where they get hands-on experience with help from an expert instructor. After all, the best way to learn to write workflows is, well, by writing workflows. In our workflow class, students write very practical workflows that they can also use in their own organization for things like handling supply requisitions, reserving equipment, and routing forms for digital signature approval—with time limits.
We currently have an opportunity for instructor-led SharePoint Designer Workflow training.
6. The Things You Can Automate Are Practically Limitless
Every business must have business process to function properly. It’s likely that a large number of those processes could benefit from SharePoint Designer workflow automation.
7. Extending Your SharePoint Designer Workflows with Additional Activities is Very Affordable
Although Microsoft has given information workers and end users a lot of power and functionality right out of the box, you will eventually want your workflows to do some heavier duty things such as set permissions on list items, loop through items in a list, FTP items to remote servers, send emails with attachments, or read RSS feeds.
We listen closely when our students and our SharePoint consulting clients tell us they need additional functionality in their SharePoint Designer workflows. We’ve created solutions to meet many of these requests and rolled them into a suite of activities called Workflow Essentials. If you want to take your SharePoint Designer workflows to the next level, you owe it to yourself to check out this very affordable product. At only $795 per Web Front End, it’s much more affordable than many other SharePoint workflow products, but provides great power with the value.
8. SharePoint Designer Workflow Consulting is very Affordable
If you need a little help, or a lot, with your SharePoint Designer workflows, we are here. Our expert consultants are available for anything from a 1-hour web consultation to help you plan your solution or help you solve a particular problem you’re having, to a multi-day on-site engagement where we can get involved at any level or depth in your automation project. Web consultations are only $250/hour and can save you many hours of looking for solutions online. Discounts are also available if you purchase multiple blocks; and longer engagements can be priced per project or per hour.
The Bottom Line: What Are Some Real Numbers?
You’re probably wondering what all this really means for your company. Let’s take a look at the example I gave above. We’ll assume that our purchasing agent earn $15/hour ($600/week, $2,400/month, $30,000/year) and spends 15% of his time getting approvals and communicating with the requestors. He estimates that by automating this process using SharePoint Designer workflows he can cut the amount of time he spends by two-thirds. This will save him 10% of his time. On a weekly basis this will save the company $60/week, $240/month, or $3,000/year by freeing up that employee to do other things that computers can’t do.
Since the SharePoint Designer program is free, If the employee attended our online Essentials of InfoPath and SharePoint Workflows class, the company only has a $1,495 investment and is saving money after only six months. Even if you add in the time the employee spent in the class (30 hours x $15 = $450) and time spent writing the workflow (10 hours x $15 = $150), the company is still saving very quickly. And not only is the company saving money, but the purchasing agent is will likely be much happier and everyone else who orders materials will be happier as well—they’ll probably all be saving time too.
It’s likely that after automating one process, this employee will identify several other processes that can be automated as well. For example, he may spend quite a bit of time attaching purchase orders to emails and sending the emails. With a $795 investment in Workflow Essentials, he can now automate this part of his job. And all the activities are available to all other workers that may want to make use of them. If one $8/hour employee saves 30-minutes each week from one of these automated processes then that’s a savings of around $200/year. If 100 of those employees save a half hour each week, or only 6-minutes a day, you’re looking at a $20,000/year overall savings. The numbers just keep adding up the more you automate even seemingly minor processes.
With the quick returns that SharePoint Designer workflows provide, I can’t think of any reason why your company wouldn’t be investing in this valuable area of technology. Can you?
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