What is Microsoft Flow?
As Microsoft heavily pushes it’s business users towards the Power Platform, they are investing heavily in the software components that make up the platform itself. The Power Platform is defined by 3 approaches to working with data: Act (PowerApps), Automate (Flow) and Analyze (Power BI). In this blog post, we will take a look at the Automate portion of the platform, and the software that enables users to automate their data, Microsoft Flow.
Flow is Microsoft’s cloud-based process automation tool, aimed at end users who see problems with the often-times manual and slow processes around them. Flow allows you to create “Flows”, that are based on trigger events and add steps in the workflow through action events. So in simple terms, a Flow consists of two parts:
- Trigger – what event kicked should start the Flow?
- Actions – what should the Flow do after the trigger happens?
There are 3 main types of triggers that can launch a Flow:
- Button – A Flow triggered manually by a button that is clicked on by the user
- Event – A Flow triggered automatically by an event i.e a file being uploaded in SharePoint, or receiving an email
- Scheduled – A Flow that is scheduled to run on a recurring schedule.
Once the Flow gets triggered, the Flow needs to understand what steps to take to perform the desired actions. That’s where the concept of “actions” in Flow come into play, actions are just steps that follow the trigger event that tell the Flow what to do. For example, if a Flow is triggered by a file being uploaded in a SharePoint library, action steps that would make sense after that might include: sending a notification to a specific user, and then save the file to that user’s OneDrive.
One of the strengths of the Power Platform, and Flow itself, is the large amount of connectors that are available to the service. Connectors, as their name implies, connect services (Microsoft or 3rd party) with Microsoft Flow and allows Flow to perform actions within those services. Microsoft offers hundreds of connectors right out of the box, but also allows users to create their own custom connectors for any situation that their out of the box connectors don’t handle.
The below image details some of the hundreds of connectors available in Flow:
Anyone can use Flow just by signing up for an O365 account and they get a fairly robust product out of the box. However, premium users get additional allowances for the amount of Flows they can run per month as well as “Premium Connectors”. For enterprise users, paying for Flow Plan 1 or 2 is probably the way to go but for many smaller businesses or regular customers would be fine.