Editor’s Note: What’s Your Best Option for Creating Workflows?

SharePoint 2010 offers several ways to create workflows, including ways for your users to build workflows without writing code.

By Mitch Irsfeld

We see it constantly in our everyday work life, business processes that conform to a prescribed flow of interactions, or workflows. Whether those processes involve multiple levels of approvals, coordinate the work of several groups, track issues and troubleshoot, or route documents, workflows are designed to improve collaboration within, and the performance of, an organization.

Workflows are core to business functions, and a key component of an enterprise-class collaboration platform is the ability to automate workflows, or the routing of tasks within overall business processes. SharePoint 2010 ushers in new, more flexible ways to create and manage these interactions, which can reduce errors, and increase the speed at which decisions get made and the quality of those decisions.

Okay, you say, increasing the speed and quality of business processes is the goal of nearly all business applications, so why is SharePoint 2010 any different? Because while most business applications attempt to automate specific tasks, SharePoint 2010 workflows help automate and manage entire processes, which involve human interactions. And automating human processes and reducing the unnecessary interactions can increase the overall effectiveness of one user or an entire company.

As we’ve all no doubt witnessed at one time or another, increasing the frequency of collaboration does not always improve a process. Without workflows, which provide logic to both system and human processes to help manage the tasks and ensure that information is made available to perform, evaluate and approve those tasks, people can spend as much time managing the processes as performing the needed tasks.

With SharePoint 2010, Microsoft offers several ways to create workflows. And TechNet has launched a new Resource Center, Workflows in SharePoint Server 2010, which does a great job of explaining the various workflow authoring tools, including the use of InfoPath forms services,  SharePoint Designer 2010, and Visual Studio 2010 to create code-based custom workflows.

You’ll also find a number of how-to videos that walk you through the creation of workflows using these tools. Using the right tool for the job will make your life easier, so check out Matt Hester’s SharePoint 2010: Quick Look at Workflows video as a great starting point. You may find the workflow templates included with SharePoint 2010 will suffice to begin with, but SharePoint Designer 2010 is a free tool that works with SharePoint 2010 and not only allows you to create three kinds of workflows but also work with the general design of a site. For a look at the predefined workflows and sample workflow scenarios, be sure to check out Workflows overview (SharePoint Server 2010).

You also can use Visio Premium 2010 as a starting point to create SharePoint workflows since flowcharts are great way to model workflows. As Brien Posey points out in his TechNet Magazine article SharePoint 2010: Going with the Flow, Visio 2010 can be used to create a workflow template that you can then import into SharePoint Designer to complete the build, without having to write any code. Posey takes you through the steps in this process, including the use of SharePoint Designer.

While SharePoint workflows are designed to improve the performance of business processes, you’ll also be monitoring the performance of your SharePoint site and there is one key element that can contribute to sluggish performance: the database.

As more users and more documents get added to a SharePoint site and need to go back and forth between the SharePoint Web farm and the SQL Server database, the database can quickly overload and slow down SharePoint 2010. In this edition of TechNet ON, Iqbal Khan provides a solution to this problem in his TechNet Magazine article Improve SharePoint 2010 Performance with RBS.

Khan’s article is a must-read for SharePoint administrators looking to elevate the performance of SharePoint 2010. While SharePoint 2010 supports binary large objects (BLOBs), it’s not the best place to store BLOB data, so with SQL Server 2008, Microsoft added the Remote BLOB Storage (RBS) feature which lets SQL Server store all the BLOB data outside the database.

We encourage you to explore this edition of TechNet ON and discover the best way for your organization to take advantage of SharePoint workflows to automate key processes. And, as always, use the TechNet Futures co-creation site to help us brainstorm content for future editions of TechNet ON.

Mitch Irsfeld

Mitch Irsfeld*, Editor of TechNet, is a veteran computer industry journalist and content developer who managed editorial staffs at several leading publications, including InformationWeek, InternetWeek and CommunicationsWeek. He is also an editor for TechNet Magazine and managing editor of the TechNet Flash newsletter.*