As a regular user or admin of Office 365, you are no doubt aware that Microsoft is always making changes, upgrading, and adding features to Office 365 products. It is nearly impossible to keep up to date on all of them. This is our attempt at highlighting the ones we think will impact you the most and make your life/work easier. This month we talk about new templates for creating users in the Microsoft 365 Admin Center, Private Channels in Teams, Site Swapping, and Priority Notifications in Teams. We also throw in bonus information like a heads up on a free online Microsoft Flow conference coming up on September 10. Don’t forget to check out the Microsoft 365 Roadmap for a full list of all that is happening with Office 365. Continue reading “What’s New in Office 365 (September 2019)”
Yep, you read that correctly. Microsoft is at it again – changing the licensing for PowerApps and Flow. Even though they just changed the licensing in February of 2019, they are making significant changes that will be launching in October. These changes come on the heels of the launch of PowerApps Portals, which are low-code websites for external users. Although I understand the need to add new/different levels of licensing for this new feature, it seems like overkill to change all the licensing just 5 months after a major overhaul. Furthermore, the changes could have significant financial implications for some, and the announcement has left the community up in arms.
I attended the Azure Virtual Day Camp put on by the Power Platform Users Group earlier this week. I registered for sessions from two different tracks (Developer and Architect); but in the end, they only registered me for 3 sessions in the Architect track (some of which were sessions for which I had not even registered). I was a bit disappointed, because I really wanted to attend the Developer sessions. The saving grace is that they sent me the recordings from the Developer sessions. Hopefully, I can find some time to watch them.
Developing with PowerApps, Flow and Azure Cognitive Services
My first session by Mariano Gomez was the most interesting. Mariano walked us through developing a Conference Badge Scanner App. The app scans a badge, converts the data to text, and sends an email to the badge owner. This same technology could easily be used to scan business cards and send them to a contacts list/data base. The App uses PowerApps, Flow and the Computer Vision API. Mariano demontrated building the app during the 45-minute session. That is how easy it is to leverage the power of the power platform. Continue reading “Azure Virtual Day Camp Review”
Happy New Year! January is here – new year, new you, right? Personally, I don’t believe in all that new year’s resolution stuff. Every day is a new opportunity to live your best life. How about we stick to new year, new updates for Office 365? There are some changes that will increase security, a change that may affect network traffic, best practice guidelines, and as always, an exciting new feature to highlight. Regarding security, Microsoft is retiring 3DES in Office 365, and sharing links that block download have begun rolling out. If you have configured your network to restrict resource access to Azure AD IP address ranges, make sure to read the piece on Azure AD updating IP Addresses. PowerApps users will be happy to see the release of a white paper on coding guidelines and standards. And finally, the exciting new feature we are highlighting this month is reminders in SharePoint.
Microsoft is very permissive when it comes to creating Office 365 groups. The default is that everyone can create Office 365 groups. Users can create groups from several different applications, and each user can create up to 250 groups. With this kind of freedom, things can get out of control pretty quickly. Before you know it, your environment can have a plethora of Office 365 Groups that may not be useful or even used. Sometimes the old adage is true – just because they can, doesn’t always mean they should.
I’ve been working in SharePoint for an eternity and in Office 365 long enough to know better yet here we are. We had a customer request a dirt simple MS Flow to dump an Excel from SharePoint to a local file share on their network so that it could be pulled into a 3rd party tool. We had just done something far more complex for a similar size/type of customer, so I just glanced at the Flow Pricing page to make sure the on-premises data gateway was listed for Office 365 as I’m always paranoid about licensing, sure enough it was there. Verified permissions were good to go and I was confident we could knock this thing out in an hour…wrong! Continue reading “Office 365 Licensing Finally Got Me”
I didn’t actually attend the summit, but rather took advantage of the fact that Microsoft is generous enough to make all of the sessions available on-demand. The Advanced Expressions for MS Flow session, led by Stephen Siciliano, was chock-full of information on the various types of advanced expressions available in MS Flow, suggested uses for these different types, and real-world demos. Using advanced expressions can seriously kick up your MS Flow game, so I highly recommend becoming familiar with these gems.
Advanced expressions are function expressions that can be written in a compose action or inline in a conditional. When an advanced expression is written in a compose action, the result of the expression can then be used in other areas of your flow. On the other hand, if the expression is written in a conditional, the result of the expression will be used to determine to which path the flow will continue. In this case, the expression must begin with the @ character, and the expressions that can be used here include equals(), and(), or(), not(), less(), lessOrEquals(), greater(), and greaterOrEquals().
However, I may be getting ahead of myself. You may still be asking “Where do I find advanced expressions?” So, let me start there. Once you create an action, click on “Add dynamic content”, in the pop up, there are tabs for “Dynamic content” and “Expression”. Click on “Expression”. All of the advanced expressions are listed by type. They also include a short snippet description to assist you in determining what they do and how you might use them. It helps that most of their names are fairly descriptive as well.
The beauty of advanced expressions is they give you many more options for working with your data; and therefore, you can create flows that can do more for you. With advanced expressions you have the power to manipulate and generate data in the following ways:
Converting Data Types
- MS Flow automatically converts some data types. For example, integers will automatically be converted to strings. What this means is that the data will be available both as an integer and as a string in the data content.
- Other, less obvious, conversions can be written as an expression by the flow author. For example, if you need to convert a base64 encoded string to a string, you would use base64ToString(). There are advanced expressions for converting to string, floating point, integer, boolean, base64, Data URI, URI component, binary, array, JSON object, and XML content.
Working with Strings
- There are expressions for joining two strings, concat(); extracting a chunk of a string, substring(); or replacing sections of a string, replace().
- If you need to convert the case of a string, you can use toLower() and toUpper().
- Finding the location of text in a string is easy with indexOf() and lastIndexOf().
- Lastly, if you need to check if a string starts with or ends with a value, you can use startsWith() or endsWith().
- Doing simple arithmetic, or even advanced arithmetic, can be achieved with the arithmetic expressions. These include:
- add(), returns the result of adding two numbers
- sub(), returns the result of subtracting two numbers
- mul(), returns the result of multiplying two numbers
- div(), returns the result of dividing two numbers
- mod(), returns the remainder after dividing two numbers
- Advanced arithmetic is possible, because you can use expressions within expressions. For example, if you want to complete a + b / c, your expression would be add(a, div(b,c)).
- Min() and max() are expressions that return the minimum or maximum value from an array of numbers.
- There are a bunch of advanced expressions for manipulating date/time. These include, but are not limited to, expressions for:
- Returning the current timestamp as a string, utcNow()
- Adding times together, addMinutes(), addHours(), addDays(), etc
- Converting time zones, convertTimeZone(), convertToUtc(), convertFromUtc()
- Formatting date/time into a string, formatDateTime()
- Returning a segment of time from a timestamp, dayOfWeek(), dayOfMonth(), etc.
- The two most helpful examples of expressions that generate data are:
- guid(), returns a globally unique string
- rand(), which returns a random integer within the specified range
The if() expression can be helpful if you are simply trying to add styling or set a value based on a condition. You can write a simple if() expression rather than add an additional layer of conditions into the flow. Multiple layers of nested conditions can become confusing and can get short circuited if a missing property gets referenced.
Properties that are not set or return as null will cause your flow to fail. To avoid this, use the coalesce() function in conjunction with the ? character. The idea is to set a default value for the property that will be used if the property returns as null. This looks something like this: coalesce(body(‘Get_record’)?[‘content’], ‘Default Value’).
There are also some really cool advanced expressions for working with lists/arrays, and workflows. I encourage you to poke around in the Expression tab to see what else is available. In the session, Siciliano also briefly discussed asynchronous actions (using 2 triggers in the same flow), working with other flows (using the Flow Management Connector), and calling nested workflows (use this to break up larger flows into smaller chunks). As I stated earlier, this session was chock-full of information. It was well worth the time spent. I’d like to think my Flow game has been kicked up a notch as a result.