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Sharepoint: a market leading tool.
The popularity of Microsoft SharePoint within the enterprise is in no doubt; in fact Gartner estimates that 80% of the Fortune 500 have adopted Microsoft SharePoint, although this does not necessarily mean that they are all using it effectively (“shelfware” implementations, as part of an enterprise licensing deal, are all too possible). Nevertheless, its rich collaboration functionality and hundred-million-plus user base makes it a market-leader.
Sharepoint adds business process management
After the release of SharePoint 2010, SharePoint now provides a good visual business process modeller and has effective support for managing document life-cycles, from creation to retention or disposal, including: approvals; feedback; signature collection; disposition approval; and it offers high-volume three-state (e.g., active/for review/complete) workflow patterns.
Nevertheless, there are challenges with using Sharepoint. Whether it actually encourages true collaboration (as opposed to a shared workflow for document signoff) is sometimes questioned, for example. It does have very powerful extension capabilities, but building sequential or state-machine workflows needs Visual Studio and the sort of IT developer that can use this tool effectively. It can build declarative, no-code workflows using SharePoint Designer but this isn’t so powerful and having a choice adds complexity (simply because maintenance/support engineers must be aware of all 3 approaches).
So, for a variety of reasons ranging from lack of the necessary skills (or enthusiasm) for the programming of workflows to concerns about being over-dependent on Microsoft and its approach to workflow, even organisations using Sharepoint may decide to build their automated workflows in any of a number of established Business Process Management (BPM) tools, some perhaps with better provenance than Microsoft has in this area.
Unsurprisingly, BPM vendors have risen to this challenge by providing simple integration layers, which allow businesses to leverage Microsoft’s investment in ease of use, collaboration and UI integration capabilities while adding core BPM functionality. Every good BPM Suite in the market today integrates with Microsoft SharePoint.
Bizagi’s answer to the challenges
So what differentiates Bizagi’s SharePoint collaboration, in our view? Bizagi launched its SharePoint Web Parts in 2014 in Studio 10.5. A simple widget (or app) can be installed in the SharePoint workplace using ‘drag and drop’, with dynamic rendering of HTML forms so as to provide an excellent user experience. No programming is needed with Bizagi Web Parts and, from SharePoint, businesspeople simply see their processes as icons that can be edited, personalised and shared; and accessed with a simple click. Moreover, users can understand Sharepoint/Bizagi integration from both perspectives – thus, different UIs (either Sharepoint or Bizagi) are available for different users.
Web Parts are supported for all editions (Foundation, Standard and Enterprise) of SharePoint 2010 and 2013. Bizagi supplies 7 different Web parts, to be used with on-premise SharePoint installations using Windows authentication or Federated authentication (i.e using ADFS – Active Directory Federation Services).
Using Web Parts
A SharePoint Web designer can start using Bizagi directly from SharePoint in several ways:
- The fastest way is to use just one Web part called Work portal, which embeds the whole of Bizagi Work portal inside a SharePoint content page. This needs minimal configuration and works with new or existing pages; although use of a new page is recommended, for usability.
- More flexibly, what Bizagi calls “Specific Web parts” can be used. These include: Activity Form; My Inbox; Case summary; and, Start Process list. This allows you to embed just subsets of the whole Work portal web part, which enables better governance.
- In addition to these, an additional web part called Start Process button can be used. This acts as a shortcut that can be used with either of the first 2 options. The Start Process button allows users to create end-user shortcuts that can start processes with a click.
Before Bizagi Web parts can be used, an initial (central) configuration of Web parts is necessary. This specifies the details of the connection between the SharePoint server and the Bizagi Work portals. Then the user can start customising the look and feel of the Bizagi’s style sheet; with Bizagi acting as a process orchestration layer, where all process related activities are securely managed and executed, and are instantly accessible in SharePoint. Process data are held in the Bizagi repository, so their integrity and security can be assured.
From the customer’s point-of-view
This layered approach is particularly effective when an organisation has implemented a professional BPM solution and wants to drive its benefits to an established SharePoint audience. A good example is adidas Group, which has standardised on SharePoint and Bizagi BPMS (Business Process Management System), with SharePoint acting as the interface between the BPM engine and the user interface. Sathish Kumar Ramadoss (Senior Technology Architect, adidas Group) explains its dual portal strategy thus: it “allows us to benefit from a richer user experience that maintains integrity over rules and workflow without compromising development speed. Leveraging Bizagi BPMS enables our UI to be seamlessly and transparently rendered via the SharePoint portal, providing the enterprise with a one-stop-shop for Bizagi-powered workflow applications” (see here).
So, integration of Bizagi and SharePoint is both easy and straight-forward and achieves the best of both technologies. Explicit modelling of processes involving business and IT is facilitated by the ease of use of the Bixzagi modelling environment and contributes to the delivery of fast results.
Over a two year period, Bizagi says that adidas Group has automated over 20 workflow projects, with 12 triggered (in development) and 9 fully live. These processes deliver automation across various departments at Adidas including supply chain, marketing, finance, retail and eCommerce. A detailed Bizagi customer story around the use of SharePoint integration at adidas Group can be found here.
To summarise, over the last 3 years, Bizagi has become a serious contender in the BPM system marketplace. Its edge comes from the ease of use of both its process Modeler and of Bizagi Studio. Compared to other products, Bizagi allows business people to understand a process concept quickly without getting bogged down in technology. Bizagi is also a founder member of the OMG BPMN 2 committee and one could say that Bizagi‘s full implementation of the OMG BPMN (Business Process Model and Notation) standard in its free Modeler has made this standard more generally comprehensible to business users
We suggested that BPM products should link to SharePoint as long ago as December 2008 and this has become a tick-in-the box capability for many BPMS products. Bizagi, however, has gone further and looked at how typical users will really want to use the two products. It has then implemented an integration link that allows users of either product to use the other product, seamlessly. This is not just a technical integration capability, but an effective integration capability, from a business point-of-view.