Viewpoint, Inc.

Microsoft Flow: Meet the New Face of Workflow

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Source: Viewpoint, Inc.

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Flow is one of Microsoft's newest products. If you have an Office 365 license, you should be very interested in Flow as it has a lot of both power and potential. In this post, I'll go through what Flow can do for you, explore what's cool, and what can be improved.

As a SharePoint consultant, I'm often faced with integrating different systems. 'How can I get data from X into Y?', 'I wish I knew when Z happens.' To solve these problems, more often than not I use workflow. SharePoint has some decent workflow capabilities, but the native workflow engine is limited and Microsoft has discontinued support for SharePoint Designer. This means to accomplish the functionality I rely on using a third-party solution - especially if you want to move data between systems. While third-party solutions are incredibly robust and have great user communities, it is an additional cost to clients.

Because it's part of Office 365, Flow is included in the cost of an O365 license. With its different system integrations and pretty user interface, Flow arrives at an interesting time. With more and more systems being able to talk to each other, Flow looks to bring automation found in your personal life into your work life.

It’s impossible to talk about Flow without talking about If This Then That (IFTT). IFTT is a web-based service that has been around since 2011 that allows users to create recipes based on triggers of certain channels. For example, if my channel is Facebook and Google Drive, my recipe is as follows: 'When I'm Tagged in a Photo on Facebook, upload the photo to my Google Drive.' I wouldn't write the recipe textually, but with IFTT it’s almost as easy as writing a sentence. Instead, I would create the recipe using IFTT's gorgeous and intuitive UI. No code necessary, just a Facebook account and a Google account.

They say imitation sincerest form of flattery, and IFTT should be flattered that Flow is very similar to IFTT. However what Flow brings to the table is a different variety of channels (known in Flow as 'Services'). Flow has the usual suspects: RSS, Google Drive, Facebook, Salesforce, and Slack – just to name a few – but Flow also has SQL, Yammer, Twitter, web requests, and every app in Office 365. So while IFTT may be great for automating your personal life, Flow is geared for automating your work. And it's not just limited to 'if this happens, then do this”; Flow has recursion, recurrence, and conditionality.

Flow has lots of templates to help you get started. The templates are grouped into four categories - get notifications, synchronize files, organize data, and automate approvals. The templates allow users to quickly build their own flow by filling in a few parameters.

Here is a template that sends an email when a file is created in SharePoint.

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Templates can be easily augmented and customized in the browser. The editing experience is decent, but some of the parameter descriptions are vague.

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