How to Get Started with Nintex

As an active Nintex partner, we frequently work with organizations to get started using the Nintex platforms for SharePoint Server, Office 365 and the Nintex Workflow Cloud.  We help these customers through their trial period, or after the sales get started so that they can make the most from their technology investment.  Our interests here are less on selling software and more about evangelizing Workflow & Content Automation concepts and practices so that people can improve their work life. We are regularly asked “How should we get started?” so this post is our standard answer to that question. 

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Getting Started with Nintex

 

Getting Started with Nintex 101

This section is going to be short and sweet.  The team at Nintex has done a fantastic job building relevant content through their Community site.  If you haven’t registered already and are at all interested in Nintex, please register now. 

Secondly, they provide many great sections to address the specifics such as:

Once the software is installed and configured, you really need to get your hands on it and start working through creating a solution.  There are some step-by-step guides to support you there and it is a good place to start. 

Hands-On Workshops

Depending on the number of people you want to train and what the participants hope to gain we offer a few hands-on workshop options. 

2-3 Day Quick Start Workshop

If there are only a few people that need training and the customer is focused on a specific solution, B&R will typically start with a 2-3 day Quick Start Workshop.  This workshop is used to get the team going with their first solution as we work to rough out the major areas of the form and workflow.  We focus on the foundation of the solution first and then focus on some of the more difficult problems or features so that we can pass along the wisdom of why certain decisions were made, as well as the technical details about how to address the requirements.  This is a hands-on session and upon completion of the workshop, the team should have a good start to the solution with actionable steps to take to complete the project. 

1 Day Workshop

For groups that either have more people to train, or in cases where the organization is looking to enable users outside of IT, we position a 1 Day Workshop that acts as an immersion experience introducing people to both the process concepts as well as the technology.  One of the great things about Nintex is that it really is a tool anyone can use to build solutions.  However, everyone typically needs some orientation before they can create useful solutions.  The 1 Day Workshop will orient participants and enable them to create their first end-to-end Nintex solution!

Our standard agenda for the 1 Day Workshop is below:

  • Nintex Overview:  Forms, Workflow, Mobile, Doc Gen, Hawkeye (45 minutes)
  • Process Mapping Overview (45 minutes)
  • Technical Overview (60 minutes)
    • Form Concepts
    • Workflow Concepts and Key Actions
  • Build a Form (90 minutes)
  • Build a Workflow (2.5 hours)
  • Wrap-up and Next Steps

Alternatively, for users that are either familiar with workflow tools or modern development, we can provide a tailored Workshop that supports more advanced topics such as:

  • Integrating your solution with other content platforms (Salesforce, Dynamics, Box)
  • Xtending the Nintex Platform with REST Services
  • Integrating Hawkeye for deeper insights into your process portfolio
  • Advanced scenarios for external start of workflows

Ad-Hoc Developer Support

B&R can support its customers in a variety of ways, but one way many of our customers take advantage of is through standing support agreements that can cover ad-hoc or as-needed work.  Under this scenario, we can facilitate a design kickoff where B&R consultants will review your form and workflow requirements and discuss approaches for implementing them.  The advantage here is that the overall project decisions should be better informed and the solution will be delivered significantly faster.  Secondly, we can provide as-needed developer support when your developers are stuck on a problem.  While the Nintex Community, also can provide great support options; sometimes what you really need is to get somebody on a screen share session to talk through the hurdle and the possible solutions. 

Ready to Get Started with Nintex?

Can B&R help you get more out of your Nintex investment?  Reach out today to setup a consultation to discuss how these options can help improve your team’s ability to deliver world-class solutions!

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B&R can help you get the most from your Nintex investment

Nintex Workflow Best Practices

Nintex is becoming ubiquitous in the global IT landscape as adoption increases in their cloud offerings building on top of their highly successful on-premises solutions. Because of this, knowledge of good workflow design and development practices specific to Nintex is paramount.

We have developed the following short list of key tips to help optimize performance and maintainability of your solutions. 

Tip #1 - Use Workflow Constants

One of the best features with Nintex on-premises is their ability to store credentials for a service account as a workflow constant. When a credential has been created, you can use those credentials without having to know the name and password of the account. The credentials are stored in the Nintex Workflow configuration database and are encrypted with DES encryption. Workflow constants can be created at the Site, Site Collection, or Farm level. You can see how it gets setup in the image below.

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To use a stored credential, simply click on the 'Select credentials' lock icon and select the credential constant from the lookup dialog box. More details can be found here.

Tip #2 - Processing and Load

With SharePoint Server (on-premises), a consideration that is often overlooked is the effect on performance of different actions within the workflow which can slow down its execution affecting performance. 'Execute SQL' or 'Query LDAP', for example, require more processing while 'Log to history list' and 'Build dynamic string' require much less. Nintex recommends breaking actions with a heavier load out to their own separate sub workflows.  

Any updates to the list, start/stop workflows, or update XML actions do not get processed immediately and are not necessarily executed in the order of the workflow. These actions will be batched up and executed according to what type of actions they are – Nintex or Microsoft. For example, this:

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will actually execute as this:

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This is happening due to the Nintex actions getting batched together and executing before the Microsoft "Update List Item" action. Another wrench in this puzzle is that although the Nintex batch may start first, it may not complete execution prior to the Microsoft action. You might think to put a 'Commit pending changes' action after the Microsoft action but that is still not a guarantee. The permissions action, for example, takes longer to complete and can possibly end after the 'Update List Item' action. It is better to use 'Pause for Duration' and set it to at least 30 seconds to make sure all the actions have completed before continuing. Alternatively, you can also use 'Wait for Field Change in Current Item' if that works for you. If you are on Office 365, Nintex for Office 365 does not have 'Commit pending changes' so you should replace it with a 'Pause for Duration' or 'Wait for Field Change in Current Item' action.

Tip #3 - Build Your Content

When designing your workflow, in O365 or on-premises, it is ideal to have a workflow that has the smallest number of actions. The benefits are in reduced server load, speed of execution, and reduced complexity. One of the recommended techniques used in developing workflows is building your content by adding relevant information to a variable as it becomes available.

For example, email body content often has to be formatted using basic HTML to display tables and other formatting. This can be built in a variable as the data is collected. Using a "Set Workflow Variable" action, you can set the variable to itself plus the additional formatting and data. So a var_EmailBody variable would have a value of "{Variable:var_EmailBody}<TR><TD>my new data</TD></TR>" when adding new data.

 The results of this method are very apparent. Workflows that previously looked like this:

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Can now start to resemble this:

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Resulting in less actions, faster execution, and a better workflow overall.

We hope that these three tips can help you improve the workflows that you are writing.  We will be publishing additional tips in the series soon.

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Need help improving and scaling your workflow processes?

Nintex Workflow Migration Considerations

Many companies are making the move from on-premises SharePoint to the cloud. There are many advantages of making the move – resource requirements are lessened, cost, features, accessibility, and more. It's great once you are there, but the biggest challenge can be the work getting there. Migration to the cloud requires careful planning, knowledge and experience to take advantage of the cloud for the different types of content. Nintex Workflows are one of the best additions to Office 365 and migrating your existing on-premises workflows successfully isn't a problem with the following considerations.

Missing Actions

Unfortunately, the cloud version of Nintex Workflows is not a 1-to-1 implementation of on-premises Nintex Workflow 2010 or 2013. The reason for this is because of Microsoft's Workflow Manager model in Office 365 which does not support all of the actions from on-premises. At the time of this writing, there are 40 out-of-the-box Nintex actions unavailable in Nintex for Office 365. Custom workflow actions are also not supported. While most of the Nintex out-of-the-box actions have been replicated, they do not necessarily work the same as it does on-premises. This is due to the architectural differences between the two environments. 

Nintex Workflow 2016 has the unique option of creating workflows that are fully compatible with Nintex Workflow for Office 365. As you begin to create a new workflow in SharePoint 2016, you can choose between creating an on-premises version with the extra 40 actions available or create an Office 365 compatible version that does not. While there are less actions available with the compatible option, it does ensure that your workflow will be compatible with Office 365 when you migrate.

SharePoint Online Limitations

There are also some key differences with SharePoint Online versus on-premises. One limitation is that a workflow file cannot not exceed 5MB in size after it is exported. When checking for a file size, know that a Nintex workflow is compressed when exported. To obtain the actual size, you will need to expand the NWP file to see what the total size is. Workflows exceeding this limit may have issues online. To reduce the risk of error, any large workflow may have to be rearchitected before moving to the cloud.  

There are many other differences with the cloud that should be known. For example, one of the issues most clients run into is the immovable 5000 item List View Threshold limit. This is the maximum number of items that can exist in a list view and keep good performance. In SharePoint on-premises, an administrator can raise the limit or set Daily Time Windows where the limits are raised. In Office 365, this limit cannot be changed and is in place 24x7. It may be necessary to create new lists to address this issue which may affect workflows. This is one example where knowledge of the limitations within SharePoint Online is paramount to a successful migration.

Other Considerations

Because of the differences in Office 365, issues can arise with workflows when implementing features. Turning on something like two-factor authentication may cause significant issues with Nintex workflows.  Knowing the limitations of Nintex's different implementations in relation to Office 365 features prevents downtime by using workarounds.  

The architecture of your workflows should be reviewed. Some actions affect performance more than others (e.g. Execute SQL, Query LDAP, etc.). Excessive looping can significantly slow down, stall, or have their execution throttled. Unfortunately, you cannot modify or increase the hardware running the workflows like you could on-premises. Also, the SharePoint Online Workflow Engine controls workflow throttling which Nintex has no control over. The only option is to increase efficiency through design with the workflow.

How Do I Get There?

All of these considerations can seem very daunting when approaching a migration to the cloud for the first time. This stress is increased since the cloud is always changing. Finding experts that are focused on this activity with experience of various requirements with solutions can help mitigate the unknowns. 

A third-party migration tool like Sharegate can greatly assist with the move. Sharegate works directly with Nintex to improve their ability to produce successful migrations. Sharegate will move all Nintex workflows, including those with actions that are not supported. Placeholders are put where the actions would normally be. The placeholders are labeled with the comments of the original action for easy identification.  This allows for a workaround to be developed within Office 365 which also helps with testing in the target environment.

Conclusion

Migrations are a complex process. The recipe for success is investigation of the existing environment, planning, knowledge of the current target environment, and a good 3rd-party tool. Experience with the cloud and tools involved is also desired. With that combination, getting your Nintex workflows to the cloud will be a success for you and your organization. 

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Need help improving and scaling your workflow processes?

Making Automation Personal: The Next Step in Digital Transformation

True digital transformation requires more than incremental improvements and goes beyond individual projects or processes.  As George Westerman, Didler Bonnet, and Andrew McAfee presented in their book Leading Digital, to become true digital masters, organizations need to think differently and work to enable their members to rethink everything they do in order to identify opportunities for automation.  By addressing the capabilities for enhancing workflow automation as a personalized technology capability, organizations can take a giant leap forward and feed the innovation cycle without limits. 

In the context of SharePoint-based workflows, this likely goes against common practice with most organizations who choose to focus on automating core business processes or system integrations used throughout the organization.  These projects are much bigger in scope and complexity and require a lot more of the organization's resources to complete.  These projects often have a great return on investment, but there is ultimately a limit to the number of projects an organization can take on.  Many organizations will see a long backlog of open project requests; commonly stretching at least 2-3 years due to lack of resources.  In addition, the people that use these systems often do so in a very detached way.  They follow the process and use the stated system, but they often are not engaged in the decisions or in making further improvements in this or other processes.  This is one of the fundamental differences in classic Business Process Management (BPM) versus the current trends for Workflow & Content Automation (WCA) with the former being very focused on formal process optimization by a few experts and the latter being more focused on less formal automation lead by a much wider audience of citizen developers.  To achieve digital mastery, everyone needs to be fully engaged and driving innovative changes which aligns well with the WCA concepts that bring together people, process, and content.

So it is with this concept that we make our pivot and focus on making automation personal!  If we teach the members of the organization how to think about these automation improvements and how to leverage the tools they have access to we have a much bigger impact than solely focusing on those larger, complex processes.  Think about the ramifications of enabling the members of your organization to each find a way to save 30 minutes a day.  The productivity boost would be staggering.  This is a journey more so than a destination so if we teach them right they can save 30 minutes today, and then look at the next thing they could do to make their lives easier, save time, or eliminate a mundane task. 

Available Automation Platforms

There has never been an easier time to make this transition from a technology standpoint.  With readily available tools that create no-code or at low-code solutions, most organizations have access to the tools needed.  Here is a selection of potential tools:

Culture Can Amplify Capabilities

The real challenge though is unlikely to be technology but rather culture and user enablement.  Many organizations have this mindset that there is a solid wall between business and IT.  They also believe that IT is responsible for providing both the tools and the solutions.   While organizations can have some success with this model, there are some extreme limits tied to the size and spend of a given IT organization.  By promoting the tools + solutions and enabling users to use them throughout the organization, this wider audience of citizen developers can have a significantly higher impact. 

To get to this point, the organization as a whole needs to support a culture of innovation and user enablement.  This cannot happen without full support from senior management and aligning it with the expectations set for positions throughout the organization.  Aligning productivity improvements with personal goals can help lay the support foundation, as can a regular award or recognition program that highlights individual or group improvements.  In many lean and manufacturing environments there is the concept of offering regular Kaizens which offer a great opportunity to grow both teams and individuals focused on solving a particular problem.  This concept can be applied to just about any business or organization. 

When organizations make this culture shift to empower and enable their users the benefits can amplify organizational capabilities and have a dramatic impact on reducing cost and improving profitability.  A recent Gartner study entitled Process-Centric Technologies Increase Revenue, found that CIOs are finding that process-centric technologies have the ability to increase revenue, in addition to the traditional benefits associated with cutting costs and increasing efficiencies.  This is change even the most hardened of executives can get behind. 

Getting Started

Need help getting started?  B&R can help provide strategic road mappingand enablement services that can help address technology, training, and culture issues.  Put the power of these tools to work for your organization!

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B&R can help you prepare for Digital Transformation!