What is Flow?
Microsoft Flow is tool that allows one to create and automate workflows across multiple applications. To create a flow, the user specifies what action should take place when a specific event occurs. The most common use of flow is to trigger notifications. For example, flow can be used to send someone a notification when an item is added to a list.
Flows can also be used to collect data. For instance, if the user wants to see what people are saying about a particular brand, they can create a trigger that will capture new tweets that mention the brand and put a copy of each tweet into a database for further analysis. Once a flow is built, it can be managed on the desktop or through an app on a mobile device. Additionally, Flow can be integrated with other various Microsoft services. The Microsoft Flow Admin Center allows an administrator to manage users, permissions and roles and ensure that employee-created flows comply with data loss prevention policies.
Why Use Flow?
Recently I was tasked with optimizing a business solution for a client. I tried other workflow applications, but was not a huge fan. I was given two tasks to complete and, much to my surprise, Microsoft Flow really made the process simple. One task was to create a flow that notified a specific user when an item was added to a list on their SharePoint site. I also had to make an approval flow to go up through the client’s chain of command. This flow was designed so that when a user added a request item to this specific list on their SharePoint site, that request would have to be approved by a certain number of people, but it would not be sent out to everyone all at once. Instead of the approval flow running in parallel, it would run a specific sequence: It first had to go to the the employee who made the requests manager, then to their manager, and then up the chain of command to a certain level depending on what the user needed. If the request was denied at any point the flow would automatically send an email to the user that their request was denied. Conversely, the flow would also send an email to the user when the it was approved. I would definitely recommend using Flow to anyone needing to solve a task involving Office 365 applications.
I familiarized myself with other aspects of Flow that I didn’t necessarily need to complete my specific task, too. I thought it would be best to see some of Flow’s capabilities because this skillset could be of use in future projects. The video playlist I used to learn some of the capabilities with Flow can be found here.
What challenges did I run into with Flow?
Only one specific issue comes to mind: I didn’t actually realize it was an issue until the task was nearly complete. To summarize, I created a lot of conditions inside one another to the point where I had an extensive chain of if statements in my flow process. But something happened when I got to the very last condition that I needed to create to email the final user: I wasn’t able to create an action inside the “yes” or “no” box. After doing some research I found that others had a similar issue, so I imagine this will be something that the Microsoft Team is working on to fix. I did end up finding a solution to the problem, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I wouldn’t have run into this issue if the criteria I received to make this flow had been a little different. A solution that can help before that problem happens can be found here.
In my opinion Flow is an extremely useful and user friendly tool. It is much easier to use than workflows and there are so many actions that can be carried out. The chances are slim that someone would have no use for it when dealing with Office 365 applications. Ultimately, I recommend using the application.