How to Pick the Best Workflow Engine

Posted July 14, 2015

by Richard Frykberg

A customer recently asked me for my thoughts on the better workflow engine: K2 or Nintex? This was for SharePoint-based processes and was required in addition to their existing investments in both SAP ERP workflow and workflow platforms.

For the record, I love Workflow (aka Business Process Management) tools as they help satisfy my professional mission statement: “To accelerate process outcomes”. Ie getting stuff done faster, and more effectively. As an organisation we have worked with a broad variety of BPM tools and amongst us we feel pretty well qualified to express an opinion on this dilemma.

By way of introduction, each tool is described on their respective websites as follows:

K2 Nintex
Use K2 to create any business application you can imagine, with
workflows and forms that span roles, departments and data sources.
Work smarter and stay focused on growing your business, instead of managing processes.
Nintex Workflow automates and improves both everyday and elaborate processes. Designed for business users and IT professionals alike, Nintex Workflow transforms your business processes by bringing together your people, your processes and your content – quickly, easily and seamlessly.

An overview of the respective solutions from a feature set perspective displays a high degree of similarity:

  • Workflow Management (Task and Notifications)
  • Graphical Process Designer
  • Form Designer
  • SharePoint and 3rd-party system Integration
  • Monitoring and Analytics

Technically, however, these solutions are quite different:

  • Nintex is built for, runs on and manages SharePoint-based processes, and
  • K2 is deployed on its own dedicated server and manages SharePoint and non-SharePoint-based processes.

From the perspective of the various stakeholders in evaluating the two tools, my matrix looked like this:

Perspective K2 Nintex
End-User Experience More flexible delegate and redirect functionality
Centralised Task list
No consolidated Task list
Super-User Experience Graphical designer but more complex, requires training Very easy to configure
Developer Experience Extensive API support
Visual Studio Designer
Extensive integration capabilities
Limited API
Limited pattern re-use
Limited deployment management
System Admin Experience Separate infrastructure requirement
Complex installation
Independently managed for scale and flexibility
Easy to deploy on SharePoint
Easy to administer in SharePoint
But adverse impact and  on SharePoint sizing and performance
App Support Experience High volume of application patch maintenance
Active community forum
Effective global support
Broad community forums
App Mgt Experience Cross-application platform
More effective, re-usable 3rd-party system integration
Owned by SharePoint team
Requires alternative solutions for non-SharePoint apps
Process Owner Experience Easy to understand process implementation and monitoring
Deep process analytics
Cross-app BPM platform for consistency of design exp
More discrete activities
Large process broken down into multiple
sub-workflows difficult to review
CIO Experience Cross application, enterprise collaboration platform Essential SharePoint extension for SharePoint solutions
CFO Experience High-value process platform Low-cost team solution

In my opinion, the best tools are the simplest tools – designed exclusively to satisfy their specific purpose. A humble screw-driver, for example. The challenge of having a different tool for every job, is you need to store them all, know when to use them, and how to use each of them proficiently! So yes, omni-tools (my 20-in-1, replaceable socket and screw driver set comes to mind) are useful too! It’s a little bit harder to know where all the parts fit, but one you’ve got the hang of it, a great utility tool to grab when you’re unsure about the challenge you’ll be facing! So which one is better? Commonly there is a need for both: specific tools designed for their specific purpose for things you do a lot, and omni-tools for doing general tasks, that are flexible enough to handle a variety of application challenges.

And thus it is with workflow tools. SAP Workflow works best for SAP-based processes. workflow is perfect for CRM-centric process automation. Nintex is a no-brainer solution for SharePoint-centric processes. The perfect specialist tools. K2, on the other hand, is an excellent cross-application platform for process automation with advanced system integration capabilities. The perfect Omni-tool to handle you most complex multi-functional, multi-user, multi-period process implementations. I would not be surprised, nor would it be a waste, to provide both sets of tools to the skilled artisan.

And as organisations deploy multiple workflow systems to address all process requirements, the value of OneList increases. Whilst the appropriate Workflow platform to employ for a specific process becomes a simple decision for IT, OneList Approvals ensures manages can consistently access tasks from all workflow systems, with all supporting information and documentation, everywhere, for immediate action.