SharePoint workflow smartens up

Organisations everywhere are exploring solutions to automate enterprise business processes using SharePoint. Here are two smart examples of at Queensland’s Redland City Council and the Brisbane Catholic Education Office.

There are 1000 users at Redland City Council, working in Windows XP and Office 2007. Enterprise applications include Technology One’s financials, property and document management (Dataworks) suite as well as Aurion HR, ESRI GIS and Maximo Asset Management.

SharePoint has been providing the council’s intranet and internet platform since 2001, and is now driving a number of external sites at and

It has been used to drive small team collaboration solutions through to a full custom solutions – Corporate Directory, Capital Works System, and Environmental Management. In 2008 Redland deployed K2 Blackpearl to provide a Business Process Management solution that was tightly aligned with the Microsoft Platform.

Stephen Alderman, IM Enterprise Architect at Redland City Council, said, “The solution needed to have advanced features and support a wide range of end users that would build workflows, from our in-house Visual Studio developers to power users within the organisation. Council has thousands of processes and our goal is to analyse and centralise as many of these as possible, the end result being efficient, consistent, cost saving, productive processes.

KK2 workflows are now incorporated into any new in-house Visual Studio development that requires workflows. All SharePoint solutions that require workflows are built using K2 by Business/Systems Analysts or power users.

“We believe business processes should be managed in a consistent manner regardless of whether it is created as part of a full software development lifecycle, or it is designed by a BA or power user for SharePoint,” said Alderman.

“K2 gives council a flexible approach to BPM that we have been unable to achieve with other products. A SharePoint workflow can be developed in K2 studio by a power user, tested and deployed in one day. The same K2 product is also part of our Visual Studio software development lifecycle for projects that are more complex.”

Brisbane Office of Catholic Education

Brisbane Office of Catholic Education turned to Nintex to assist with a project to automate mailroom scanning and incoming document workflow. SharePoint was rolled out in 2009 to provide a united Enterprise Content Management platform for schools in the Brisbane Catholic Education system. In early 2010 the organisation moved to implement a mailroom automation platform including Kodak i420 scanners and workflow automation created by Nintex.

Seeking to gain some major cost savings by replacing the manual mail handling process, it made sense to implement the mail workflow on SharePoint, which was already being used for collaboration and document management. The solution reduced mail and courier costs, and introduced an ability to apply formal records management policies to categories of incoming mail.

Mike Fitzmaurice, vice president of product technology at Nintex, has been involved with the evolution of the SharePoint platform while working at Microsoft.

He said no workflow is typical, but the solution developed for Brisbane Office of Catholic Education is a good demonstration of the capacity for SharePoint to extend beyond its initial role in an organisation.

The mailroom automation solution involves scanned documents being processed by Kodak’s Capture Pro Software, which performs optical character recognition (OCR) to assign specific text to determine metadata properties of the resulting PDF document.

“There were some challenges to implementing this project,” said Fitzmaurice. “Sometimes if the Kodak scanning software wants to drop something into SharePoint, it wants to pretend it’s a string or text, if it’s a date or currency then it will have a problem delivering it properly.

“In this case, Capture Pro was to image the document and OCR it, then pluck pieces of OCR text which are assigned to metadata properties of the resulting PDF.”

Once the document has been scanned and OCR’d by Kodak Capture Pro, it is delivered to a SharePoint document library which has fields setup to receive metadata captured by Kodak Capture Pro. Nintex Workflow 2007 was used to create series of simple document workflows for scanned mail, using its drag and drop workflow designer functionality. Data is first cleaned, then secured so that only the intended recipient has access to it.

This recipient is notified, then a log is created to track what happens with each individual piece of mail. The work was done by OBS, an Australian Microsoft partner and system integrator, as well as a Nintex partner.

Out of the box workflow

Luke Shaw, Director, Professional Services of Queensland-based solutions provider Efficiency Leaders, believes the release of SharePoint 2010 has provided more out-of-the-box capability for workflow automation.

"Under previous versions of SharePoint, most of us would agree that 3rd party add-ons were essential for those wanting a simple and graphical interface for workflows. There are still great opportunities for these tools with SharePoint 2010; however Microsoft has really raised the bar, by greatly improving the user experience and simple design process. So if you want workflows that communicate with people through tasks and e-mails, or more advanced workflows, SharePoint 2010 and associated tools are worth a real look." said Shaw.

The new tools for creating workflows cater for all levels of users wanting to create and map workflows. These include Visual Studio 2010, SharePoint Designer 2010 and Visio 2010. The new features of SharePoint 2010 make it more robust and applicable to solving a wider variety of workflow problems.

Efficiency Leaders is currently using these Microsoft tools to develop and automate workflows for government organisations, ASX listed companies and various other companies across a wide range of sectors. Some of the workflows include accounts payable automation and mailroom automation.