SharePoint Online has an almost infinite and unlimited number of use cases and solutions. After all, it’s a highly extensible platform that can be customized to fit any business need. With little to no customization or development, it is a highly effective and useful solution even if used “out-of-the-box.”
The power and flexibility of SharePoint, with or without custom development, is one of the things that made it the fastest growing product in Microsoft’s history back in 2007 and seems to have as many uses as a Swiss Army Knife.
While nearly all of our customers have realized incredibly strong ROI from leveraging SharePoint technologies, nothing pays off more than Business Process Automation.
What is Business Process Automation?
Great question. Essentially it is taking a process that is repeated often within an organization and automating that process using strategy, online forms, and workflows.
Although we live in a process-driven world, it is amazing how many organizations still use antiquated means of completing repetitive tasks. Most often these processes are manual and involve filling out offline documents in Word, Excel, or PDF formats and sending those documents via email.
Even when these forms are made to be browser-based, typically there is little business logic built into the form and the workflow aspect is often reliant on email as a means of moving the process along. These manual processes are everywhere and extend all the way to older technologies such as faxes and yes, even paper stored in file cabinets!! In some cases, there are entire jobs or positions that are solely focused on facilitating manual processes.
Using SharePoint Online Forms and Workflows allows organizations to take outdated, manual processes and automate them so that they are controlled and guided by system logic, not individuals.
Some of the obvious benefits are:
- Faster Execution: Automating and streamlining processes provides greater satisfaction for the people involved with the workflow process reducing the execution time as much as 50% or more. Faster and more efficient execution of a process means increased profit for the organization. Routine and manual processes within organizations are simply not viewed as an enjoyable aspect of employment in this age of technology.
- Error Reduction and Data Integrity: Errors and omissions are substantially reduced since business and validation logic can be put into the Online Forms. This not only saves time and energy, but employees can be made aware of errors or issues and be prompted to correct the errors. Instead of letting an unknown error continue down the “process” chain until noticed it and then is sent back to the point where the error occurred. The integrity and quality of the data during this process is greatly enhanced, while performing key validation steps without human intervention.
- Turnover Reduction: This new business process now becomes systematic and less reliant on people. This means that turnover or other staff changes will dramatically drop and have less negative impact on the process and the organization.
Native Options for Customer Workflows
SharePoint has a powerful set of native options including InfoPath for Online Forms and SharePoint Designer for Workflow. More complex workflows may require a 3rd party platform such as Nintex. We have seen many customers build their entire mission-critical, core business processes onto SharePoint using Online Forms and Workflow—including financial firms who use it for tracking trades and financial transactions as an example.
Some of the most common workflows we’ve developed for customers include:
- Employee On-boarding and Off-boarding
- Annual Performance Reviews
- Procurement and Work Order Approvals
- Expense Approvals
- Invoice Processing
- Sales Opportunity Management
- Marketing Campaign Management
- IT Help Desk Service Requests
- User Account Provisioning
Not Dreading Processes and Employee Satisfaction
One of our biggest thrills of implementing SharePoint is seeing otherwise manual and cumbersome processes made streamlined and efficient. It is truly something that saves time and money, while promoting employee satisfaction. Many of these “dreaded processes” are things that people despise and detract from the aspects of their job. The more menial and tedious work that can be done quickly and efficiently, the more employees can dedicate their real energy to things that improve the organization and the customers they serve.
In IT Consulting, we don’t get the same satisfaction of providing people with basic needs, saving lives or improving our communities, but helping to reduce the impact of organization bureaucracy and improving the day-to-day work experience is something that we can feel spectacular about!
We have found that a great number of companies have untapped opportunity to harness the power of SharePoint Business Process Automation. Sure, SharePoint 2013 was better than 2010 and 2010 was better than 2007 in all respects, but this has been a capability that has been available in SharePoint for quite some time.
SharePoint 2016 is coming out any day now and that doesn’t look to have any game-changing functionality for online forms or workflow. However, one of the things that is having an impact on an organization’s ability to leverage SharePoint for Business Process Automation is the Office 365 SaaS version of SharePoint: SharePoint Online.
The Game Changer: SharePoint Online
While SharePoint Online doesn’t necessarily offer anything new to Online Forms or Workflows and many of the prolific 3rd party vendors have ported their products to Office 365, the real game changer is that SharePoint Online is natively accessible from the public internet, so it can easily be shared with external parties. This is a game changer for many of our customers and the use of SharePoint for external collaboration is definitely on the rise with SharePoint Online.
Of course, you could do the same thing with an on-premise installation of SharePoint; however, we have seen few companies truly extend an on-premise SharePoint environment to be accessed by third party users outside the organization. And it is not without effort on our part. Configuring SharePoint for use as an “Extranet” is complex, tricky, difficult to manage, and wrought with security concerns. While there are still governance concerns for SharePoint Online, all of the infrastructure security is taken care of by Microsoft. This removes a great deal of the barriers that kept companies from building out SharePoint Extranets.
With SharePoint Online, we’re seeing the collaborative aspects of SharePoint extend outside the organization and this is huge for Business Process Automation. If you look at the list of example workflows provided above, you will notice that most of them are internal-use only applications. These days, many business processes require input and collaboration with external parties who do not have local network access or Active Directory accounts. SharePoint Online is opening up big opportunities for organizations to more effectively collaborate and streamline ALL business processes whether internal or external.
Some of the recent examples of External Business Process Automation we’ve helped customers implement include:
- Contract Negotiation and Finalization with External Partners
- Project Management Sites that allow for Full Inclusion of External Customers, Vendors, and Partners
- Sales and Marketing Portals for Partners
- Customer Order and Invoice Summaries
- Recruiting and Hiring
Written and composed by our Senior Managing Partner, Steve Soper.
How can your organization benefit from SharePoint Online and Business Process Automation? Find out today, by filling out this form or contacting sales by phone today at (650) 453-8152.