First of all, if your business wants a «serious» SharePoint workflow (by serious, I mean not basic) forget about SharePoint Designer: the tool is buggy and you surely will need some features that are not available with SharePoint Designer.
So, should we use one of the external workflow product (as Nintex, K2 or AgilePoint) or should we build our custom workflow with Visual Studio? Four things to take into account:
1. License cost: Nintex, K2 and AgilePoint can be very expensive.
2. Time for developing the workflow: both options are similar. It depends on the profiles of the people involved in the workflow development.
3. Time for maintaining the existing workflow: with an external workflow product, the maintenance is very quick and easy. With a Visual Studio workflow, if you need to modify some code it can be risky and tricky.
4. In my opinion the most important parameter: the profile of the people that will develop the SharePoint workflows.
- If they are IT developer or analyst with strong .NET / SharePoint development knowledge, you should consider developing your own workflow with Visual Studio.
- If they are not developers, you should consider using one of the existing third-party workflow product.
To conclude, let see the following real-life scenario that occurs quite a lot:
Approach: The IT managers and analysts try one of these tools (let’s say Nintex, the best in my opinion) and they really like it as it is very cool. They decide to purchase the licenses. The analysts are meant to develop the workflow so the IT programmers won’t be bothered with it, and can carry on with their usual tasks.
Initial development phase: After a few weeks, analysts are getting less involved into the workflow development as some tasks are not very easy to get done if you have no programming background. And the developers start to take over the workflow development.
Development and finalization: At the end, the analyst only design the workflow outside of the platform and the programmers are the ones developing the actual workflow.
So, in that case, even if the result will be the one expected, have in mind that the licensing expenses could have been avoided.