What is Microsoft Flow (rebranded as Power Automate) and how can I use it?

Microsoft Flow is an exciting tool that can help you automate simple tasks and more complex processes. But what exactly does it do and how can you use it in your business? Office 365 has so many moving parts, most of which are separately branded and available Individually, it can be quite difficult to stay on top of just what does what and how you can use individual applications, tools and services. Customers often ask us to go through the fundamentals of some of the individual parts of the Office 365 universe. To help them weve created an occasional blog series to cover different apps. Weve already covered Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Graph, and this time its the turn of Flow.

What is Flow?

Microsoft Flow is a process and task automation tool that helps connect different applications and services together. Many of these applications that can be used with Flow are cloud-based, although it is also possible to use Flow in an on-premises environment. Microsoft itself defines Flow as a tool to create automated workflows between your favourite apps and services to get notifications, synchronise files, collect data and more.  Microsoft Flow is available bundled in some Office 365 licenses but also on a separate subscription-basis. Theres even a limited free version for individuals as well as an accompanying mobile app. Flow is one of a handful of Office 365 tools that helps bring the power of process automation to a non-technical audience.  Because it is relatively easy-to-use and because everything can be done through the browser, power users and content owners can use Flow directly without necessarily the input of IT professionals and developers. When combined with the power of other automation tools in the Office 365 suite such as PowerApps and Power BI Flow can also be used to create custom business apps that can be used throughout your business.  

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Actions and events

Lets go into a bit more detail about how you can use Flow to define workflows and connect sometimes disparate apps and systems together. Fundamentally you use Flow to help define an action which is triggered by an event.  For example, lets say you are in Microsoft Teams and you want to create a notification that appears in a Teams channel for whenever somebody sends you a direct message via Twitter, helping you to monitor an inbox you may rarely visit. In this case the event is you receiving a Twitter direct message, and the action is a notification with appropriate details appearing in Teams. Flow is the tool in the middle where you can define what you want to happen in response to different triggers from a multitude of different systems. At first glance this might not sound very advanced, but when you start to combine multiple events and actions that work together you can start to create relatively sophisticated automation. In our view this versatility is one of the most powerful aspects of Flow; you can utilise it to help you build core bespoke business applications used by your workforce, but also for individual workflows that might only relevant to a specific function, team or even individual. The fact that both developers but also individual content owners and power users can leverage the power of Flow in this way is impressive.

Templates and connectors

Another strong feature of Flow is the extensive library of connectors and pre-built templates that come with it for popular automations across different systems. These start from simple to relatively sophisticated. Connectors allow you to connect to a variety of different systems. Many popular platforms are here, from Facebook to Salesforce to Mailchimp to right across the Office 365 suite. The number of connectors is also expanding. Templates are pre-built popular automations that are easy to install. These range from getting updates about the weather to many more business-focused workflow recipes. For example, there are templates to allow you to receive a weekly update of new opportunities coming from Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics, but then there is also automation to trigger the needs to start an approval process using Docusign based on a the status of a sales opportunity status in Salesforce or Dynamics. You can search the library for templates; this is a nice way to give you some inspiration on how you can make improvements to the way you work.

How can I use Flow for my business?

There are so many processes you can use Flow for its hard to know where to start. At the individual level it may be something relatively simple. For example, a content owner may maintain a page on the intranet that includes a SharePoint list of say approved suppliers across multiple offices. You could use Microsoft Flow in conjunction with a form to allow office administrators to submit a new approved supplier that automatically adds to the SharePoint list but also then triggers a workflow approval that also alerts procurement who may also need to be involved in some way. Our article on different ways to automate business processes includes a number of ideas that can be achieved with Flow, including:
  • Ensuring content governance on intranets and in policy libraries to remind content owners and authors to review pages and files to they are up to date
  • Logging support calls on a helpdesk and allowing users to track progress and get notifications
  • Using forms to streamline requests and approvals, and then aggregating notifications in one useful place for users
  • Archiving documents, data and even sites across your digital workplace to align with your governance framework and related policies
  • A whole range of sales and marketing automation features including sending up follow-up marketing emails based on customer actions to updating your CRM system
  • Monitoring external social media across multiple channels.
And then you Flow might also be a part of your bespoke business apps and even enterprise systems based on Office 365. For example, weve used Flow as part of the apps weve created for clients.  

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Should you go with the Flow?

Were sure you can use Flow to help you improve processes and automate tasks.  Microsoft continues to invest in Flow, adding features, connectors and templates. If youd like to discuss with us how you can use Microsoft Flow to help your business then get in touch!

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