Microsoft Flows: Work less, Do more

September 15, 2017

by Karen Gilson

Work less, Do more” – Microsoft

This is Microsoft’s catchphrase to introduce and advertise one of their latest technologies, Microsoft Flows.

Recently I embarked on a challenge to find out whether this phrase is true to word and was ecstatically surprised with my findings! Let me tell you why.

The Basics

Let’s take the three pillars of a business application platform. Measure, act and automate.  A business needs to act on their measurements and automating it allows for

We have Microsoft Flow under the Automate pillar because that is what it does – AUTOMATE and make our lives that much easier.

How does it work?

Watch this introduction by Microsoft, only takes just over a minute! Not much, but it is very simplified and clear…

…and yes, it is as easy as it looks!

Essentially Microsoft Flow allows us to automate tasks across different applications. It is designed for power users, anyone nifty enough in-browser or using a mobile app, so that is most of us nowadays! It uses a pretty easy web-based Visual Designer without any code. If you really want to get in the nitty gritty of code to develop complex automation, with a little bit more low-level power, don’t worry, Microsoft has not forgotten the developers! For the developers, there is Azure Logic apps. Actually Microsoft Flow is built on top of Logic Apps, they are both integration services, with the same workflow designer and sharing Connectors. If you wanted to have more enterprise deployment capabilities, you can take a Flow and turn it into a Logic App later on.  With Microsoft Flow, you establish the actions that compose the overall flow and the path that it will take, adding in any condition checks and connecting to the data using Connectors.  A Connector is what connects one application or service to another, to access and pass on data. Here is where PowerApps also come in the picture. With PowerApps you build task-based applications that work with your data. It can be used to show data in a gallery or list and to use with forms for detail editing and other patterns for working with data.  That can be another blog post.

Have a look at a few of my favourite Connectors. Visualising them gives us a better understanding. You don’t need to do anything with them, but simply connect using your credentials (user name, password and general setup), and the rest is easy peasy!

 

The list of Connectors is ever increasing which is also great for all! You can find the full list here.

Then there is the Common Data Service where we can store integration data. This is a sort of common ground, a common database to all the various SaaS and Enterprise applications we want to integrate with. It brings together the best of all the different applications from typical CRM, ERP, as well as Office productivity applications like Meeting Information into one data model that can be leveraged by applications you build with Microsoft Flow and/or PowerApps.  Because of this common ground, you can create applications that retrieve data from different sources and yet for you, your employees or client, it integrates seaminglessly into one.

If you’re familiar with workflows, you should be very comfortable with building Microsoft Flows as well.  You have a set of actions you want to take.  You might have some conditions in there, and what you are trying to do is orchestrate making that happen. It might also run over a period of time.  Building a Microsoft Flow is a similar concept.  So for example, just as you would trigger a Dynamics 365 workflow on a create record, you could trigger a Microsoft Flow on a create in a Dynamics 365 record. Not into CRM? No worries…another example, you could trigger a Flow based on an inbound e-mail, even from a specific client, or a file that got put into Dropbox or a tweet that you picked up on Twitter or a post on Facebook on the company’s timeline.  Once the Flow has been triggered, it executes a series of actions or steps as it goes through the automation.  You can guide the path that the automation takes by putting in branching conditions. Let’s say that you use the connector to retrieve a set of records, maybe all the activities associated with a client. You use Apply for each to loop through each activity and perform some action on each.  And because Flows span multiple systems, they may be triggered by one system and apply the action in another system, so you are bridging the gap between the two systems.

Using the designer, you can choose to start from a blank Flow where you add your own triggering as well as the actions and conditions that you want to happen in the Flow, or you could start from one of the available prebuilt templates if you find one that matches what you’re trying to do.  There are some teething issues with some of the templates, but hey ho, it is new technology by Microsoft and as Microsoft replied to my queries on certain instabilities, “there should be a fix published for that soon” Templates are definetely a good starting point to get ideas and learn your way around.

Simplified, with Microsoft Flows, you can synchronise data, get notifications, collect data, automate approvals and so much more!

Let’s see it!

Let’s see some of Microsoft Flow’s capabilities;

 

 

 

Want to try it out?

Oh yes please! Here is where to go https://emea.flow.microsoft.com/en-us/ and you can start FREE right now!! For FAQ here’s the link https://flow.microsoft.com/en-us/documentation/frequently-asked-questions/

So what do I think?

Yep Microsoft have hit the nail on the head with this one, it is bang on true! Microsoft Flows is empowering, exciting, efficient and innovative. And for the geek inside of me, fun!

Work less, do more

Karen Gilson is a Senior ERP Solution Consultant at Bluefort, specialising in Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations (Enterprise Edition), also known to some of us as AX.  You can contact her on kgilson@bluefort.com.mt