Business productivity software is continuously evolving and collaboration tools, such as email and document management delivered by Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms such as Microsoft Office 365, are becoming more common.
Most people associate Microsoft® Office 365® with applications from the list of the Microsoft usual suspects, such as Outlook®, SharePoint®, Word, Excel®, and PowerPoint®. However, many other tools within an Office 365 subscription, which are not at the forefront of most people’s minds, can help with business productivity. One of these applications is Microsoft Flow.
Microsoft Flow enables the automation of common tasks and business processes across various applications and services. The interactions can be with applications and services within Office 365, as we would normally expect, but an added benefit is that you can integrate with other external applications such as Slack®, Salesforce.com®, Dropbox®, and Box, to name a few.
Flow allows you to build workflows based on certain triggers or events. Following are some sample scenarios:
When an item is created within a SharePoint list, Flow can generate an email notification and send it a group to review. Alternatively, Flow can send the notification of the newly created SharePoint list item to a Slack channel.
Flow can trigger an approval process for a reviewer group when a document is added to a SharePoint folder.
Flow can start a logged approval workflow process, which results in recipients receiving an approval request by email. Users can then review and provide their feedback, which Flow tracks in the Approvals section.
Getting started with Flow is fairly straightforward because you access it through your favorite web browser and select from lists and populate fields to create the workflows. The workflow to generate an approval for a newly created document in a SharePoint folder looks similar to the following illustration:
As mentioned previously, Flow enables interaction with other applications outside of the Office 365 suite. For example, Flow triggers exist for Salesforce record creation or modification, Dropbox file creation, Azure Blob storage additions, and Box file creations.
When using Flow, connectors are used to gain access to the relevant portions of Office 365 applications or external applications. If your organization is using Single Sign On (SSO), that simplifies much of the setup.
Flow includes conditional checking, which enables Flow to make decisions based on the results obtained. This can be simple Boolean test or more complicated pattern matching and switch case type scenarios. Combined with the ability to define variables, you can use Flow to address the complicated parts of a workflow.
The trigger definition for a Flow does not have to be an event. For example, you might want to generate a daily report on the number of items in a SharePoint list that have certain criteria. You can use a scheduled Flow to achieve this. The frequency is configurable with options measuring from seconds to months.
Note: The Office 365 plan that your organization subscribes to might impose some limits on which frequencies you can use.
You can also share Flows that you create with team members to enable others to collaborate on the Flow creation. However, be aware that connections used in the Flow are available to other collaborators under the defined user context, albeit only from within the Flow.
When starting out with Flow, it can take a while to define the correct triggers and tune the responses exactly how you want things to work. To help with this, Flow has the Flow Checker, which checks the syntax of the defined Flow.
In addition to the Flow Checker, you can test the Flow with actual data. The test process has the option to use previously submitted data so that any issues that have arisen can be replicated exactly without having to simulate the triggers repeatedly. Flows can also be disabled and enabled to help with the testing process or if a workflow is only used short term, but might be useful later on.
Many people are now working in a more mobile way, such as using smartphones. The Flow mobile app can facilitate this way of working. The mobile app is not ideal for the creation and testing of workflows, but for things like approvals, the app can be useful.
Flow is available on different Microsoft Office 365 plans. To get started, you can choose the free plan level, which has the following limitations:
Moving up through the plans provides a greater number of executions and additional application connectivity options. However, in all plans, the number of Flows that you can create is unlimited.
Many businesses today are either existing users of Office 365 or are contemplating adopting it for cloud-based email. However, the suite includes many other tools such as Flow that can further enhance business productivity. Rackspace has a team of Microsoft-certified members dedicated to Office 365 support.
If you are interested in finding out more about how Rackspace can help your business can improve productivity with Microsoft Office 365, visit our information page.
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