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SharePoint Alerts vs Workflow Alerts

Susan Carlow

In this post I want to cover SharePoint Alerts vs Workflow Alerts.

Sometimes you need to know what’s happening in a SharePoint list or library, and you can’t possibly keep checking to see if a new doc has been added or an existing item has been changed by your colleague.  That’s where automated alerts come in.  But take note, there are two types of alerts that can help you keep up to date with additions and changes to information on SharePoint.

What’s the difference between a SharePoint alert and a Workflow alert

SharePoint has an ‘out of the box’ feature called Alerts. When a user sets an alert on a document library or list, they receive an email (or text) notification whenever something changes.

SharePoint Alert

A workflow alert is the next level of complexity, it’s built in a separate tool that specifically creates and manages workflows, and is usually configured by a developer or skilled administrator. A workflow alert can notify you of something as simple as a change to an item or doc, but it can also perform more customised notifications, e.g. sending an email when a status is triggered on a document, or only sending an email when a specific department needs to be advised of the change.

Why use alerts?

The main reason to use alerts is to stay on top of changes – notifications mean users are automatically kept informed and can take action depending on what the alert is advising them about.

SharePoint’s alerts are simple to set, so any user can set an alert that suits the type of information they need to be made aware of. For instance, a Manager may want to know when a client proposal has been added to a library, a Supervisor may want to know when a policy has been deleted, or staff may want to know when a template is updated.

SharePoint Alert

SharePoint alerts are handy for taking control of what goes on in a list or library. If something new is added – or if an existing item is changed or deleted – you’ll find out immediately. You can even batch the notification to a daily or weekly summary; convenient if you have a large team and expect to receive a lot of alerts.

Workflow alerts are next level handy. They can be customised to send notifications based on filtered or pre-determined data, they can even move documents (and items) from one library to another. As the name suggests, workflow alerts automate your workflow, for example if a new order is entered in the list the workflow can trigger a number of actions, including sending alerts to various members of the team.

Who sets alerts?

SharePoint alerts can be set by anyone. Users can proactively set alerts for themselves, and the Administrator can set alerts on behalf of others.

Workflow alerts are built in tools like SharePoint Designer or Nintex, and require a skilled administrator or developer to create.  Once set up they work automatically for users but if they need tweaking at a later date, the edits will need to made in the original software tool.

Examples of useful SharePoint alerts

I’ve mentioned the obvious example above where you set an alert for when a document is deleted or edited, or when a new doc is saved to a library. You can set the same thing for a list, so if someone’s mobile number changes in the contact list, an alert can let everyone know about it. Or if a new hazard is identified, the H&S Manager can be alerted immediately. Here are a few other examples I think are useful:

  • Set an alert on a calendar event – If the time or date of the event changes you’ll receive an email notification.
  • Set an alert for everyone on the logo picture library – When a new logo is introduced let the team know immediately where it is and that it’s now available to include in their docs and presentations.
  • Set an alert for everyone on the newsfeed – When a new piece of information or news is communicated, encourage staff to read it. If your organisation uses newsfeed a lot, you may want to set the alert to batch the notification as a daily summary so it sends at the same time every day, and staff aren’t bombarded with news alerts throughout the day.

SharePoint Alert timing

  • Set an alert for relevant staff on the template library – Ensure staff are aware that a template has changed by sending a notification. If the template is only used by Sales staff, set the alert for the Sales team only.

Examples of useful workflow alerts

Keep in mind that workflow alerts are more complex as they tend to have an action associated with them. Here are some workflows I regularly set up for my clients:

  • Health and Safety – When a new incident or hazard/risk is logged, set a workflow alert to notify the H&S Manager immediately, also notify the affected employee’s manager and the person in charge of that area of the business.
  • IT Help Desk – When a new issue is logged, set a workflow alert to notify the IT Help Desk and the line manager or the person whose budget may be impacted.
  • Leave form – When staff apply for leave, send an alert to their manager for approval, and once approved send a notification to payroll and the resourcing team. If you use a calendar to manage leave, you can also set the approved leave to display there for all staff to view.
  • New starter form – When the start date is confirmed for the new starter, the workflow can trigger a bunch of tasks for HR, the new employee’s manager, IT and anyone else who will be involved in induction or set up for the new starter. The workflow triggers alerts to those who need it, and places an event in the calendar so everyone can see when the newbie is due to start.
  • Trigger a workflow alert when the status changes – When a range of people need to be alerted, they may not need to know about their task until other actions have been completed, or the status has progressed further. In this case, the workflow can send alerts to the appropriate staff member depending on the status (or any other field you require) and continue to flow alerts and actions based on any updates to the status field. Your developer or administrator just needs to configure a status or related field to manage the life cycle of the document or incident, e.g.
    • Was the risk/issue resolved?
    • Has there been an injury related to the incident?
    • Does the Legal team need to be notified?
    • Has the area manager added the incident to their weekly report?
    • Has the IT help desk escalated the job to the appropriate technician?
    • Is the IT issue a show stopper or something that can be dealt with during end of month maintenance?
    • Is the document related to Sales or Customer Service?
    • Is the new purchase a widget or a wodget?
    • Has the login and password been set up for the new starter?
    • Have the training team added the new starter to the next induction training course?


For more information on how we can help you with SharePoint training and intranet development please contact me.  We also offer training in Office 365.

Susan Carlow

Susan is a dedicated and energetic IT professional with over 25 years experience working with world-class IT systems, methodologies and organisations and over 20 years of experience in training and development.

She has the knack of relating to users, easily translating techie-speak and complex system processes into real-life terms to ensure learners ‘get it’.  She specialises in identifying your business issues and any barriers that stop users from getting what they need from their technology.

Over the years, Susan has worked with renowned companies such as DHL, British Airways, Sky City, Vector, Auckland Council and Beca – designing and delivering quality learning solutions, increasing user productivity and helping them to reach their business goals.Susan is a certified Microsoft® Office Specialist specialising in OneNote, Office 365, Lync (Skype for Business) and SharePoint.  She offers training, design and development services for all versions of SharePoint server, as well as cloud SharePoint – the online offering in Office 365.

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