Get to Know Microsoft Flow

One of the great benefits of migrating into the Office 365 cloud suite is the range of potential tools and integrations, the breadth of collaboration possibilities. For so many, this is what inspires them to migrate to begin with, and what makes their experience in the cloud so valuable.

A new cloud environment can be daunting, however—especially one as richly populated with features and platforms as Office 365. Between SharePoint Online, OneDrive, and all of the functionalities tools beyond them, it can be intimidating to think about managing your projects, keeping track of what is happening where, and how.

Ever aware of evolving customer needs, Microsoft created a solution: a uniting tool to help organizations and their users effectively manage and automate the complex processes and myriad innovations that Office 365 facilitates.

The result? Microsoft Flow.

What is Flow?

Enticingly described by Microsoft as a way to make your apps “talk to each other,” Flow is Microsoft’s workflow and automation tool: a one-stop shop to help users create automatic processes and pair applications with one another in order to enhance productivity.

Like other cloud workflow options, Flow provides the basic features–scheduling, project approval, the ability to delegate specific tasks amongst team members–but it goes further with the way it allows users and teams to connect their applications. To steal an example from the illuminating introduction video Microsoft has posted to its site, a business could set up a flow wherein, if someone tweets at your organization, you automatically follow their Twitter, send an automated reply, and add their information to a spreadsheet which is emailed to you for your approval.

That’s one of the more complex workflows that Flow would allow you to design, but the possibilities are endless. Whether you want something as simple as a text message every time you receive certain emails in Outlook, or something more complex, like adding the contact info of all new non-spam email addresses that reach out to Salesforce, Flow is bringing a level of automation to workflows that is bound to not only increase your productivity and save you time, but help you master every single element of your Office 365 environment–from SharePoint to Yammer–with ease. Integratable with over 100 different applications and tools–everything from YouTube to MailChimp–Flow is predicated on the understanding that, as your organization grows and evolves, the number of tools you rely on will too. With this in mind, Flow strives to provide users with the best available option to connect all of these tools with one another in ways that mimic their specific needs and styles of work.

The Magic of Templates

Everything we’ve just mentioned probably sounds great in theory, but you might be wondering exactly how Flow actually works. Despite the complexity of the processes it’s designed to automate and streamline, Flow itself is incredibly easy to master, largely due to the inclusion of various templates that users and teams can take advantage of.

While it’s easy for a team to craft a workflow or automation from scratch, the tool also offers a wealth of pre-built options meant to address common needs and challenges that organizations turn to Flow to fix.

Divided into easily navigable categories such as social media or productivity, these templates are built with specific tools already in mind, and make it easier for businesses that implement flow to hit the ground running. Want to get a notification from your Office 365 apps when you receive an email from a specific person like your supervisor? The template to get you started is right there. You barely have to lift a finger.

All of these templates are easily accessible, no matter what part of your Office 365 environment you’re working in, and once you open Flow, you can reach them from a side-panel menu.

From this menu, users can also access all current or past flows, and the basic approvals that they might be working on with other departments (say a budget, contract, or multi-chapter ebook). From “connectors,” users can access the tools they most frequently use (as well as commonly employed ones), from which they can construct a new custom flow. “Data” allows users to see their specific connections with other users and teams, as well as the specific materials or files that they might working on via Flow in tools such as PowerApps. Finally, Flow users have easy access to tutorial materials from Office 365’s learning center, so that any questions they might have about the product don’t stand in the way of them getting done what they need.

The key to Flow–embodied in both templates and menu–is ease of use, and organizations who employ the solution will find that front and center at every turn. By providing users and teams with detailed (but not distractingly so) options to help them make the most of Flow’s automation capabilities, Microsoft is guaranteeing that that feeling of being overwhelmed by options won’t hinder Flow users. Furthermore, it works to centralize the diverse, disparate apps upon which users and teams depend, giving you immediate access to all of your various integrations in one location.

Most Workflow Tools Make Work Easier. Microsoft Flow is Changing the Way You Work.

In other posts, we’ve discussed the robust workflow tools provided by other platforms, most prominently Box and Dropbox. Those workflow solutions are indeed impressive, and other cloud collaboration platforms are catching up, understanding that many organizations looking to migrate view workflow management as a requirement for their cloud destination. In creating Flow, however, Microsoft wanted to reach beyond the goals of a basic workflow tool (no matter how powerful), and create something that not only met those fundamental needs, but revolutionized the way in which users and teams interacted with the tools on which they rely.

Flow understands that in any given day, you’ll have large projects and standard responsibilities, both of which must be done with care. It also understands that, in accomplishing every single task that you must, you have your own unique strategies and preferred tools. The ability to automate and connect the essential tools in your arsenal via Flow ensures that users can build, from the ground up, processes that match exactly how they like to work: flows and automations as an extension of their personal approach to their job.  

In short, Flow strives to not only make work more manageable, but to evolve the way in which you approach it. Flow expands the range of what is possible when it comes to working in Office 365, and creates a tool that can automatically create relationships between your apps that mirror how you use them. That Flow is so easy to use almost masks the breadth of what it is doing, and the ultimate potential it has to empower organizations working in the cloud.

How Do You Want to Work in the Cloud?

That’s the question that Flow wants to help you ask–a question whose answers have previously been limited in a way that Flow has said “goodbye” to. Office 365, SharePoint Online, and OneDrive have gone a long way to providing organizations with new ways to work, collaborate, and store their content. Flow wants to expand those options even further by allowing users and teams to tailor their various tools to the challenges they regularly use those tools to overcome.

With Flow, the power of Microsoft’s cloud offering is multiplied, and businesses who are considering migration should take note. With Flow, Microsoft has raised the bar on workflow solutions, and elevated all the organizations that use the tool along with it. Won’t you accompany them on that climb?