Workflows and the automation of tasks to ease your staff’s workload and improve efficiency is a topic of keen interest within the SME communities we deal with. Undoubtedly Microsoft SharePoint is also the first name out of the hat when it comes to looking at solutions to implement any such automation.
At this point I would like to introduce a worthy contender, Orbis Taskcentre, which in recent years has included the addition of Workflow tools to compare against the offering of Microsoft SharePoint.
Our focus is on the limits of the “out-of-the-box” functionality that these products can provide – or more accurately, how far you can push it without getting a developer on board to add in some tasty customisation.
Installation & cost
The majority of SMEs that we provide services for are Microsoft houses; server operating systems are well established; integrated products & security well provisioned and supported upgrade paths are available. SharePoint Workflow tools are available from Foundation-level, extended in Standard and Enterprise Server flavours, but the real cost lies in the CALs required for your number of users.
Orbis Taskcentre is available for Microsoft platforms only at this time, requiring a minimal specification Windows Server. It is distributed on a task-based licensing, offering task packages starting at 25 tasks. As per Microsoft’s CAL scenario, these task packages can be upgraded on demand. An annual renewal fee is also applied, at a percentage of the original task package fee.
The Standard Workflow tools
With SharePoint we are provided with 5 standard Workflows to manage Document expiration, Feedback & Signature collection, Approval and a “three-state” process.
Taskcentre provides a single workflow tool, 2 types of automated trigger (inbound email, or from a database trigger) and a generic database connectivity / query tool.
What’s the interface like?
SharePoint standard workflows are configured through form selection & entry and a visual representation of the Workflow is provided in a Visio diagram in the final Workflow settings page.
Taskcentre provides a more friendly web-designer interface, with an HTML view and properties form to confgure elements within the HTML view. In the broader task view, the simple drag-and-drop GUI is a slick and very easy to use experience.
Extensibility – what about the future?
Let’s not be shy about this, when it comes to Microsoft SharePoint if you are willing to lift the lid on the code it is can be extended beyond recognition. But this is serious development, and if you are serious, then this needs to be managed appropriately and using a professional programmer.
Orbis follow a different path – the drag & drop GUI across Taskcentre in addition to the suite of tools provides an equal level of extensibility. You will most likely find that SQL programming and SQL Server administration skills will provide the most benefit in getting more out of your Taskcentre.
The standard workflow options offered in SharePoint provide reliable workflow process implementation for reasonably involved tasks, that can be adapted a little to accommodate your needs. Flexible it ain’t. Start talking integration and you quickly find yourself looking at supporting tools, even third party products to intergate with SharePoint. Ultimately you will have to introduce business intelligence through customised workflow design (using SharePoint designer, or Visual Studio).
The workflow tool in Orbis Taskcentre, whilst provisioned through a slightly clumsy design interface is tightly supported by the Taskcentre toolset, allowing for much more configurability of integration with data sources and therefore the benefit of firing workflows from outside of the Taskcentre environment.
For further information about how we can help you with either SharePoint or Taskcentre please get in touch.