What is Microsoft Flow and what is it used for?
What is MS Flow?
Microsoft Flow has recently been added to Microsoft’s Office 365 suite. For an organisation that has migrated to Office 365, it takes advantage of the fact that many of their applications are now in the cloud. Therefore, the integration of these applications, so that they can seamlessly interact with each other, has already been looked after.
Microsoft Flow takes this to the next level, integrating 151 applications and employing smart command processes to automate repetitive tasks. It is aimed at making it simple and practical for end users and team owner end users to build quick workflows, automating potentially thousands of tasks. In practical terms, this takes back the hours spent performing many manual processes, so that users can instead use their time more effectively. Flow offers all of this fantastic potential without the need to access the organisation’s IT team.
How does Flow fit into Microsoft’s overall strategy
Flow is part of a growing platform of business intelligence apps in Office 365. Synchronisation or ‘sync’ was once upon a time a term that popped up on your screen when linking one device to another, but the internet of things has become our present and our future. We are rapidly moving from smartphones to smart homes, and business is getting smart as well.
People can now realistically expect synchronisation across multiple devices and applications, all working together in real-time with harmonious connectivity. Flow fulfils this expectation. If you are managing a line of business and want to trim a process to improve efficiency, speed, reduce human error, etc., you can now easily build flows for yourself. Flow opens the door for customers and external partners to create purpose-built solutions for their own companies, their industry, or even their functional roles.
Relevance for the end user
Flow has been quite rightly compared to the popular consumer internet service, IFTTT (If This Then That). This is a free service that triggers actions based on conditional IF statements. For example, you could configure a workflow that automatically posts photos you upload to Instagram to your Twitter feed or sends a mobile notification whenever Accuweather predicts rain in your area.
With the same service, you can build time-saving solutions, such as, automatically creating a Onenote task of emails tagged as important, or synchronizing files from Google Photos to Dropbox. There are multiple types of these automated commands in the IFTTT, and each one is called an ‘Applet’. These recipes are pre-defined solutions that other contributors have shared. However, you can always break away and create a recipe of your own!
In Microsoft Flow, each recipe is called a ‘Template’, and works in much the same way, but specialises in Microsoft applications. You can check to see how many people find a particular template useful. For example, currently, the ‘Save Office 365 email attachments to OneDrive for Business’ template has been used 70,709 times.
The templates in Flow are divided under five main headings: Email, Collect Data, Social Media, Notifications and Productivity. This means that whatever task it is you are trying to simplify, Flow can help you design your command template with specific conditions chosen by you.
Why does Microsoft think it needs its own version of IFTT?
Flow provides a similar service to IFTTT, but with a preference for Microsoft services (including Outlook, Dynamics CRM and Onedrive), and a restriction on the Office 365 tenancy members. But that’s not to say there isn’t integration with third-party apps. Dropbox, Twitter, Salesforce, several Google products and Slack appear in the list of Microsoft Flow supported services, and more are following every day.
“Microsoft Flow makes it easy to mash-up two or more different services,” said Stephen Siciliano, principal group program manager for Microsoft Flow. “We have connections to 35+ different services, including both Microsoft services like OneDrive and SharePoint, and public software services like Slack, Twitter and Salesforce.com, with more being added every week.”
Microsoft Flow vision for the customer
The work that we, as individuals, do today involves constant shuffling between services and making connections between data. Microsoft Flow lets you connect different services and simplify work life. It is a bit like having a personal assistant who takes care of things all day long, every day, and you just don’t have to think about it. It works invisibly.
Imagine you’re a social media strategist and for the next quarter your goal is to increase user engagement by 100%. You know the steps to do this, yet you feel intimidated by the goal. You start by writing blogs about the product, crafting tweets, keeping the conversation going with followers, managing data in Excel, determining the user sentiments and making reports to keep the team informed about the progress. It’s just too much. How could you possibly manage all of this single-handedly?
Consider the above example, only this time imagine having a personal assistant who waits to take the orders from you or, even better, does things proactively to get the latest market trends for you in daily emails, all the while analysing user sentiment and keeping all files in sync across clouds.
Flow simplifies complicated tasks, speeds up laborious processes and, ultimately, makes life easier. The stage is set to interconnect your chosen services.