Government agencies are tasked with delivering a wide range of services to citizens as efficiently and securely as possible.
It’s no easy feat, especially with limited resources, legacy processes, and strict security requirements.
A move towards digital government – using technology to provide services – is putting pressure on agencies to modernize their ways of working.
Introducing workflows to automate day-to-day work and project tasks is a practical starting point, especially for organizations using SharePoint.
Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of automation for government agencies and how to get started with SharePoint workflows.*
Digital government refers to “service delivery within government — as well as between government and the public — using information and communication technologies.”
The overarching aims of digital government are to:
- Deliver efficient services by taking a ‘citizen-centric’ approach.
- Increase public engagement with government.
- Transform policies and procedures with modern technology and management practices.
- Streamline cross-agency and department cooperation.
- Reduce operating costs.
- Implement feedback quickly.
- Drive innovation with an increased focus on strategic work.
The benefits of digital government can be considered from two vantage points – citizens and employees.
Instead of filling out multiple forms with different departments, citizens expect a streamlined experience, accessible at any time.
- Booking healthcare appointments online.
- Using an online portal for various applications, such as permits and tax submissions.
- Providing feedback on key decisions and policies on social media.
This requires agencies to map, understand, and improve the end-to-end experience of public services.
Agencies can leverage software to personalize and scale services, increasing engagement and building trust with the public.
Traditionally, many public services are delivered in-person, within certain working hours, and with a heavy reliance on paper forms.
In fact, research has found 58% of public-facing processes and 46% of back-office processes rely on paper.
As a result, government workers are often buried under mountains of paperwork with little time for deep-focus, valuable work.
In a survey of 300 local government officials by the Governing Exchange, 53% of respondents reported they were unable to complete their work within the 40-hour workweek.
Meetings, paperwork, email, and data collection were identified as the primary obstacles to productivity.
Without the right technology, employees have to deal with:
- Repetitive, error-prone tasks.
- Outdated, siloed legacy systems.
- Poor collaboration with other agencies and departments.
- Overly complex workflows.
- Security risks.
- Manual data collection and analysis.
Financial resources also cause problems. In 2018, IDC reported that 79% of annual civilian agency spending was allocated to maintaining legacy IT systems with just 21% devoted to new systems.
Agencies have to do more with less and find ways to deliver new, innovative systems.
They also need a viable route to digital transformation or risk another failed project.
The trick is to start small and deliver real benefits for citizens and employees alike. When ready, implement the change on a larger scale.
Using workflows to automate repetitive tasks and document management is a simple yet effective starting point.
Government Workflow Examples
A workflow is a set of steps for completing a task efficiently and repeatedly with the same results. Where possible, workflows are automated for increased efficiency with fewer errors.
Automating document management and project tasks offer significant benefits to government agencies. A survey conducted by Smartsheet found that:
- 59% of respondents reported they could save six or more hours a week if repetitive tasks were automated.
- 69% indicated they could eliminate human error with automation.
- 72% noted that the time saved through automation would allow them to perform higher-value work.
Automation paves the way towards digital government, creating time for citizen-centric and mission-critical services.
Let’s take a closer look at document and task management workflows for government agencies. We’ll also cover how to improve the security of workflows. Later, you’ll learn how to get started with SharePoint workflows.
As mentioned above, government processes are paper-based, a cause of frustration for the public and employees alike!
Using workflows, government employees can:
- Digitize paper-based information at the source.
- Accept and use information in any format, for example, photos and speech-to-text files.
- Route the file(s) to the relevant person.
- Prompt the recipient to take action with reminders.
- Build compliance into each step of the process for increased accountability.
- Standardize files across teams and departments.
- Quickly collect feedback and electronic signatures on key documents.
- Accelerate Freedom of Information requests.
Less reliance on paper-trails with increased security and transparency? It’s a win-win.
With automated reminders, easy handover to colleagues, and an audit trail, workflows simplify task management.
Below is an example of an automated workflow for a late project task. The task owner receives an email:
- When the task is assigned.
- 24 hours before the task is due.
- A reminder if the task is late.
The project manager also receives an email notification if the task is late. The workflow increases visibility without any additional administration work.
Security and data protection is a key concern for the public and government officials alike. Automating document and task management allows government agencies to build robust security elements into every step of the process.
These precautions include:
- Creating a run-history of workflows for auditing purposes.
- Using routing rules and authentication to ensure only authorized individuals are assigned tasks or can access documents.
- Adding password protection to sensitive files.
- Scheduling regular backups of important files.
- Using alerts if the file is changed, or printed.
- Building compliance into the workflow, preventing users from finishing a task until a certain action is complete.
Let’s recap what we’ve covered so far.
- Digital government is a move towards using technology to provide public services, improve efficiencies, and reduce costs.
- Government agencies often struggle with digital transformation projects for several reasons, including funding, resourcing, and legacy processes.
- Security and data management is a key concern for agencies and citizens.
- Automating document and task management is an effective step towards digital government, offering several benefits to citizens and employees.
So far, so good!
If you’re ready to introduce workflows for documents and tasks, you’ll need to think about software.
The tool should create a digital workspace for your team with document libraries, project management, workflows, and task and work management.
The aim is to create a single source of information, communication, and accountability.
As a collaborative and configurable platform, SharePoint fits the bill!
In addition, the software should be FedRAMP approved. BrightWork, a project and portfolio management solution for SharePoint, can be deployed in a secure on-premise or FedRAMP- SaaS compliant cloud environment.
Keep reading for more details on SharePoint workflows. We’ll take a look at five out-of-the-box workflows, SharePoint Designer, and Nintex workflows.
SharePoint Workflows for Project Management
SharePoint workflows are “pre-programmed mini-applications that streamline and automate a wide variety of business processes.”
SharePoint workflows run on lists and libraries. There are three types of SharePoint workflows:
- A list workflow is used on a list or library. These workflows are often triggered by an event, for example, the creation of a new list item.
- A reusable workflow is created at site level and is available in other sites.
- A site workflow is not connected to a list or content type, and can be used anywhere in a site. Examples include archiving completed tasks in a project site at the end of each day. This workflow must be triggered manually.
SharePoint ships with five types of workflows, ready to use out-of-the-box.
- Approval, used for gathering approval on a document.
- Collect Feedback, used to collect feedback on a document.
- Collect Signatures, used with Word documents, Excel workbooks, and InfoPath forms.
- The Three-state Workflow tracks the status of a list item, like a task, through three states or phases.
- Approval, used when publishing new SharePoint sites.
These workflows are available with every version of SharePoint. If you are using SharePoint 2010, you will build workflows on the SharePoint 2010 workflow engine only. SharePoint 2019/2016/2013/Online can use the SharePoint 2010 or 2013 workflow engine.
Monitoring SharePoint workflows is quite straightforward.
Firstly, the workflows for Approval, Feedback, and Collect Signatures must be added to the site by the site administrator.
Secondly, SharePoint workflows are connected to permissions.
- To add a workflow, you will need the Manage Lists permission. This is added by default to the Owners group (full site control).
- To start a workflow, you will need the Edit Lists permission, available to the Members and Owners group.
Finally, the Workflow Status Page creates a useful audit of the workflow, including:
- Name of the person who started with workflow.
- Start date and time.
- Date and time of the last run.
- Name and link to the document or item used in the workflow.
- Current status.
- List of tasks assigned to the workflow participants.
- List of all events in the history of the workflow, for example, task creation.
The history of a workflow is maintained for 60 days after the workflow is complete.
In the below video, BrightWork Customer Success Architect, Scott Footlik, explains how to use the Collect Feedback Workflow on a project.
These five out-of-the-box SharePoint workflows will help you to quickly implement workflows for daily and project tasks.
Once your team experiences the benefits of workflows, you’ll likely want to create custom or complex workflows. In the next section, we’ll review two tools for this purpose – SharePoint Designer and Nintex.
Using SharePoint Designer and Nintex for Workflows
SharePoint Designer is a no-code tool used to build and customize SharePoint sites and applications, including workflows.
Once installed, connect SharePoint Designer with a site in your SharePoint environment and get started!
It’s worth noting that Microsoft is no longer making this application, with support for SharePoint Designer ending in 2026.
However, you can continue to use the 2010 version with SharePoint 2010, and the 2013 version with SharePoint 2019/2016/2013/2010/Online.
For BrightWork customers, your Customer Success Architect can create custom workflows using SharePoint Designer as part of your deployment.
BrightWork also includes Workflow Sync, which allows users to apply updates to multiple SharePoint 2010 and Nintex List workflows in a single interface.
In this training video, you’ll learn how to use SharePoint Designer 2010 to build a custom workflow to:
- Email relevant individuals when a new project status report is posted in a project site.
- Update the project statement with comments from the project status report.
Nintex is a no-code, point-and-click solution used to automate project management processes such as status reporting and risk management.
Nintex integrates with BrightWork, making it easy to add workflows to project sites and templates.
Nintex workflows are often used for automated status reporting, automated exception reporting, and project request management.
As you can imagine, automation and workflows can quickly get complicated! It’s best to start small with a clearly-document process before turning to software.
- Pick a task or document that is critical to your team but is time-consuming to manage.
- Map the current process with end-users, including outputs, key activities, and task owners.
- Once the process is documented, create a flow-chart or visual diagram. This is your workflow.
- Use this information to identify improvements such as:
- Automating tasks using software.
- Removing unnecessary steps.
- Tasks that can be completed simultaneously.
You’re now ready to build a workflow with software! Our on-demand webinar, Using SharePoint Workflows for Project Team Collaboration, is a great starting point.
*This article is a high-level review of SharePoint workflows. The details may or may not apply to your local SharePoint and governance strategy.
If you have any questions about your SharePoint project site or workflows, please consult your SharePoint administrator.
In her free time, she enjoys a challenging session at the gym, tucking into a good book, and walking the beautiful Galway coastline with her dog.