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!

Capturing Comments for Nintex’s Lazy Approval in Office 365

Providing solutions for customers is always a win when you can improve communication between employees. With Nintex workflows, one of the challenges many developers have with Lazy Approval on Office 365 is capturing the comments provided by Approvers in the email back to the original submitter. A task email is sent to an Approver and that Approver can only reply with the approval/rejection keywords. Any other comments in the email will be disregarded by the system. Also, there is no option to CC the original submitter in the initial task email which means the only way for an Approver to email comments back to the original submitter is by manually copying them in the approval/rejection email. This would not allow the comments to be captured along with the task. Frustration with this issue can be seen on the Nintex UserVoice site where it is one of the top voted requests. While comments cannot easily be captured if the Approver replies by email, they can be captured if the Approver customizes the Nintex task form. Simply put, the comments are captured in a workflow variable and added to the body of the email.

To accomplish this, start by creating your form and workflow. For this example, I am using the simple workflow below:

The first step is to create the text variable that will capture the comments from the custom Nintex task form. Click "Variables" from the workflow ribbon and then click "New" to create the text variable. I'm calling mine "TaskComments".

After that has been completed, go into your "Assign a task" action and click on the "Edit Task Form" button in the ribbon.

You will be presented with the standard Nintex form that you can customize. Next, create a panel at the bottom of the form and assign a rule to hide the panel at all times. The rule should have these settings:

Add a "Calculated Value" field to the panel. This field will assign the comment to the "TaskComments" variable we created earlier. Add the Named Control called "Comment" to the Formula and set the Connected to field to the variable "TaskComments". The settings should look like this:

Save everything. Your form should now look something like this:

Now all that is left is to add the variable to our email. Go into your "Send an Email" action on the "Rejected" branch and add the "TaskComments" variable to the body of the email. It should look something like this:

Do the same with the Approved email and you're done. Publish the workflow and you're good to go!

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Hopefully this can help you address the needs for greater feedback collection in your approval workflows!  Have any questions, or if you have a tip to share, reach out and connect with us!

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Track and Visualize Compliance Events as Part of Nintex Workflows

Like most consulting groups that build a lot of workflows for process automation, we work with a lot of approval processes to help formalize important reviews and decisions while supporting compliance activities.  We recently received an interesting request to update an existing process we helped build and maintain.  In this particular approval process, the financial transactions were being reviewed and approved, but the stakeholders really needed to be able to view the pending and approved transactions. 

Adding a calendar to visualize when approvals have taken place was a big win with the client. The requirements for setting it up were simple. The events would have either a 'Pending' or 'Approved' state and can approve via email. Finally, the events would appear on a calendar color-coded to each state of approval.  Because the pending documents are stored in a separate library from final documents, and to support color coding and full featured calendar connections, we chose to use a calendar list versus the limited calendar view format for a traditional SharePoint library. 

Nintex's LazyApproval is a great solution for approval workflows. Setting up the workflow was simple. Once a user adds a new document and sets the event date, the workflow creates a calendar event and then creates a task. The first step in the workflow is a filter to check if the Created date is equal to the Modified date. This lets me know if the item was just added to the library without having any metadata added to it. I could check to see if a calendar item has already been created. This would occur if an item had already been rejected and updates have been applied to the original item. If not, the calendar item is created in the 'Pending' state. On approval, the calendar item is set to 'Approved'. If rejected, it will stay as 'Pending'.

The workflow looks like this:

The way I keep the Calendar Events in sync with the documents is by using the Document ID. I added a text field called "Document ID" and write the Document ID value on creation of the calendar item. That makes it easy to query.

Setting up the calendar requires a trick in the use of the ribbon option 'Calendar Overlay'.

Normally, separate SharePoint calendars are used to overlay onto a single calendar. Using that method, 3 separate calendars would be required for this solution, one for each state of the event. The trick is to add a separate calendar view as a separate calendar. By using this method, there is no need for separate calendars, only for separate calendar views.

Once you enter your site into the Web URL and click 'Resolve', the List and List View dropdowns should populate. Simply choose them and when your calendar items meet the criteria for the list view, they will appear with the color you chose.

The result is a single calendar with multiple color-coded entries. Events can even span multiple days or specific times depending on your start/end dates and times.

While this is just a subset of the total workflow, it illustrates a great technique that can be used for supporting your compliance activities. Creative uses of workflows with SharePoint apps help demonstrate the full power of the platform as well as their investment to the client generating a win on many levels.  Utilizing what is available in the box combined with thinking out of the box is key to happy clients.

If you would like to learn more about this solution, or how we can help automate different aspects of your business, please contact us.

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Partner Solution: Print to PDF not working on Nintex Form

On occasion, we plan to share through this blog some of the technical solutions provided by members of the B&R team. In the following example, B&R's Thomas Daly (@_tomdaly_) has created a solution for a common problem with Nintex forms where print to PDF is not working. We hope you find this information useful:


I stumbled across an issue last week where a client was reporting that the custom branding broke the print functionality of their Nintex forms. I made the master page so I already know that I didn’t chop out anything from the masterpage, it might be hidden but it’s still there. I wondered how can just some CSS break the page. Perhaps it was some of that JavaScript code that we wrote? Or maybe a conflicting version of jQuery? …Nope. After a few hours or trial and error (showing all hidden zones, removing all js and css, thenslowly putting things back in) I found the issue with the references to Google Fonts.

This is my normal way of linking multiple google fonts. Nintex Print to PDF doesn’t seem to like the first line. It specifically doesn’t like the ‘,’ in the url. If you removed everything after “400” then it would work fine. Our design requires all 4 weights of this specific font. In other designs we’d have multiple google fonts with multiple weights being requested.

<link href='//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:400,300,700,600' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'/>
<!--[if lte IE 8]>
<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:300" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:400" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:700" />
<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:800" />
<![endif]-->

Simple fix is to link to each file independently (not the most efficient since you are making 4 calls to google instead of 1) Ultimately you likely won’t notice any difference.

<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:300" />     
<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:400" />     
<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:700" />     
<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans:800" />

You can see in the image below that the fonts are all loading at the same time anyway taking 16ms except for that one. This is an example on just one load time. You will get different results each time. Google fonts are also cached so it’s likely the users will already have a copy in the browser.


You can find Tom's original post at www.thomasdaly.net which includes many other developer tips and best practices for SharePoint branding and customization. We look forward to sharing more of these great solutions moving forward, and we look forward to your feedback!

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