We have been using the Workflow capabilities of MOSS 2007 to streamline the routing of documents and work items to colleagues for approval, sign-off, and other common workflow tasks. An added benefit is that the Workflow History provides an electronic “paper trail” to document the flow of information in an organization – such as who approved a particular document.
Clients who rely on the latter feature for paper trail or audit purposes may be surprised to find that workflow items seem to “disappear” after a period of time. When selecting workflows from a drop-down list for a particular document, completed workflows that are less than 2 months old will appear in the list, while those older than 2 months will not appear.
The seemingly-disappearing workflows are due to a scheduled SharePoint job that runs nightly called “Workflow Auto Cleanup”. The job’s function is to remove some of the associations in the database between documents and workflows. While the underlying data for the workflows is still stored in the database, the associations are removed. This was done by design by Microsoft for performance reasons.
Nevertheless, companies who do depend on workflow history have some options available to them and need not be concerned about the loss of their electronic workflow paper trail. Some options include:
- A patch available from Microsoft technical support can change the number of days from 60 to a larger number, thus increasing the amount of time that the workflow histories remain visible.
- The Workflow Auto Cleanup job can be disabled by a server administrator in SharePoint Central Administration. This would prevent any workflow histories from being removed.
- All SharePoint sites have a hidden list called Workflow History. The list can be accessed by appending /Lists/Workflow History/ to the address of the SharePoint site. The list contains many system IDs that point back to the various lists, workflow definitions, and documents within the SharePoint database, along with the actions, user names, event dates, descriptions, and outcomes. While the list is difficult for most SharePoint end users and site owners to read, it contains the underlying data that, in the event of an audit, could be used to piece back together a complete workflow history. ( See the Figure below)
- A custom web part, can utilize the above-mentioned Workflow History list to display the various workflow events in a more readable format.
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