If ‘X’ equals ‘Y’, do ‘Z’
When I speak with many business users about what they want from a simple workflow in SharePoint, often times, it is a basic request:
- “Can I get notified when someone adds a new item?”
- “Can you change the status of the document when I approve it?”
- “Can you notify a user if a document needs to be approved after a certain date?”
Creating some of these simple workflow requests requires knowledge of SharePoint Designer. That’s something many normal users aren’t willing to learn. For SharePoint professionals, many of us are glad to hear that. Because giving users access to SharePoint Designer is never something we want to do. Even so, SharePoint workflows have its limitations. What if I want to update external information after adding a list item? Sure, it’s possible to do, but also a gigantic pain if you’ve never done it before.
Microsoft has recognized the widening gap between creating basic workflows for business users. So it recently released a preview of their new Office 365 offering: Flow. In my earlier post on PowerApps, I showed a small taste of Flow by creating an approval workflow for our Twitter PowerApp. For this post, we’ll discuss where Flow is today, and why users should consider using the product.
Not Just for SharePoint Anymore
Microsoft has been working strenuously to make Office 365 a truly connected system. However, workflow has historically been limited to actions tied directly to SharePoint. The core of Flow is to move beyond SharePoint and provide actions that not only sync with Office 365 products, but external products as well. You can find native workflows in Flow that interact with Box, Salesforce, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even Google Sheets.
In the screenshot above, you can see just a few examples of how flow can take use cases and make them a reality. For example: “When an item is created in Salesforce, create a row in SQL.” In a few clicks, I can take Salesforce data and put it into a SQL Database (NOTE: this particular instance is SQL Azure). Or, how about “Trackemails in an Excel Spreadsheet.” These are terrific use cases that IT professionals hear on a daily basis. Now it’s available for business users, too. As users create new Flows and publish them for everyone to use, the gallery shown in the example keeps growing.
What if I Need Something More Advanced than a Simple Workflow?
Flow also doesn’t confine you to templates that have been published. You can also create custom flows based on default actions. Flow also provides two areas that extend beyond the products it interacts with natively. The HTTP action and the HTTP + Swagger action:
With the HTTP action, you can connect to any publicly accessible REST endpoint, and perform the following operations: get, post, put, patch, and delete. So, if your on-premise environment has a custom application you would like Flow to interact with, you can use this action to incorporate those systems into your Flow.
If your Application does not have an API, you can use the Swagger Framework to create one. Find more information on using the Swagger Framework here.
What if my Organization Needs Advanced Business Process Automation?
If your organization needs advanced business process automation, I would recommend considering other tools (Nintex, K2, IBM). Flow is still in Preview, and while the outlook looks bright, it is nowhere near ready for advanced business automation. Right now, I see Flow as a simple workflow tool for business users with some advanced features for users, not an organization. But, Flow will be valuable for many companies because of its power to provide users with the following capability: “If ‘X’ equals ‘Y’, do ‘Z.”
If you’re interested in learning more about SharePoint 2016 or Office 365, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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