Recently I’ve been working on site with a local client helping to set up a new SharePoint 2007 based intranet site. Those of you who have been following my blog for some time would realise that this is really a bit of a homecoming for me; its the work I started out doing so many years ago.
I’ve learnt a lot these last few days, looking at things once again from a customers perspective. Our client was quite technical himself and I was there less to design and build the intranet site itself and more to provide the benefit of my experience and bootstrap his own learning.
As is usual in these sort of situations, his own explorations prior to engaging me showed me a few things I hadn’t encountered myself to this point. One of these was Nintex Workflow, a third party add-on to SharePoint 2007.
I have, as a rule, stayed away from third party add-ons in the past. In my regular role I design and develop solutions to be deployed to client servers and so we tend to stay away from including third part controls, over which we have no control, to our solutions lest they cause unknown problems we might be unable to resolve.
Nintex Workflow however is far too tempting to pass up. Traditionally our method has been to suggest the built in workflows wherever possible, and to use SharePoint designer as another (uncomfortable) option for simple workflows. SharePoint designer has the advantage of being fast and simple, however workflows created this way must be created in-situ as they are hard-wired into the environment they are created in. This is not a great situation for us, as we prefer to develop off site on test systems and create a deployment package wherever possible.
The other option of course is to use completely custom workflows. This is a powerful option that provides full control over every aspect of the workflow, but has its own disadvantages. One of these is that even tiny changes to the workflow often require a complete rebuild and redeploy to make it happen.
Nintex Workflow takes SharePoint designer workflows and custom workflows, sticks them in a blender and serves you up the result. It provides a visual editor inside the SharePoint environment itself in order to plot out the workflow flowchart and a massive library of components ranging from built-in approval/feedback tasks similar to the standard SharePoint ones all the way to the ability to make calls to external web-services. They also provide the ability to import and export workflows, which would likely aid in deployment.
A quick dart around their website reveals they are also providing an SDK to allow developers to create their own specialised components (one of the few saving graces of SharePoint designer workflows) and a version is currently in the works targeting SharePoint 2010.
Whilst working on-site I’ve created several small workflows for their new intranet and it really is the simplest, most powerful SharePoint workflow tool I’ve yet used. If you’re maintaining, or planning, on complicated workflows, you really should give it a look.
Disclosure: I am not affiliated with Nintex in any way, have received no compensation of any kind for this review, and in fact have never had any communication with them whatsoever. I just really do think this is a great product.