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Grow Your Business Technology

Demystifying Microsoft Flow

Demystifying Microsoft Flow

Introduced and added to several of Microsoft's business suites, Microsoft Flow is a tool that can integrate cloud-based apps and services so they interact with each other seamlessly. According to Microsoft, this cloud-based tool improves efficiency and productivity by enabling virtually anyone in an organization to automate many tedious and time-consuming business tasks and processes without developer intervention.

A downloadable mobile app for Android, iOS and Windows Phone makes it easy to use Microsoft Flow on mobile devices to create, manage and monitor flows. It comes with Microsoft 365 Business, Office 365 Business Premium and Office 365 Business Essentials.

Here's a quick overview of Microsoft Flow and a rundown on a group of workflow templates that could benefit your small business right away.

How do I get started? Signup for individuals is easy; just follow the instructions.

What does it cost to use Microsoft Flow? Microsoft offers both free and paid service levels. Sign up for a free 90-day trial of Microsoft Flow.

What's a "flow" and how can I use it? The purpose of Microsoft Flow is to automate routine processes that you use over and over in your work or business. Virtually all automated flows begin with a triggering event and end with an action in response to the event.

For example, maybe you spend most of your day signed into Slack, managing projects. But you don't want to miss emails your manager sends to you in Office 365, so you're repeatedly interrupting your work in Slack to check your email. With Microsoft Flow, you can automate that process to save yourself a lot of time and angst.

You can set up a flow so those messages will be automatically forwarded to you in Slack. In this example, the triggering event is receiving a message from your manager in your Office 365 email box. The action is sending the message to you in Slack.

Here's how to set up a flow for this scenario. Using the search term "Slack," search Microsoft Flow for an appropriate flow template. Only templates related to Slack will be presented, so you would next select "Send a message on Slack when my manager emails me." Complete the template and then double-check that the template operates the way you want it to. In just a few clicks and keyboard strokes, you've freed yourself from checking your inbox for messages from your manager.

What if I can't find an existing flow that meets my needs? If you have a process that you want to automate but can't find a suitable existing template in Microsoft Flow, you can easily create your own flow from scratch.

To which data sources does Microsoft Flow connect? With Microsoft Flow, you can connect to more than 100 data sources right out of the box, such as the following:

  • Box
  • Dropbox
  • Dynamics 365
  • Facebook
  • Google Drive
  • Google Sheets
  • Office 365
  • OneDrive
  • OneDrive for Business
  • Salesforce
  • SharePoint
  • SQL Server
  • Trello
  • Twitter

The complete list can be found under "reference."

Microsoft Flow is a public cloud service only, but you can use your on-premises data gateways to securely connect to your own on-premises services.

What do I need to use Microsoft Flow? After you sign up or subscribe to Microsoft Flow, all you need is Microsoft 365, a web browser and an email address. Microsoft Flow supports Microsoft Edge and current versions of Chrome and Safari. All email addresses are supported except for .gov and .mil.

What are some ideal Microsoft Flow templates for small businesses? Shaving a few minutes off multiple routine tasks eventually saves hours of your time. The following are just a few examples of Microsoft Flow templates that are ideal starting points for small businesses. See more templates at Microsoft Flow.

Never lose track of an email attachment again. "Save Office 365 email attachments to OneDrive for Business" allows you to automatically save email attachments upon arrival.

Receive and track positive feedback. "Get emails for positive tweets" automatically sends an email notification to you whenever someone makes a positive comment about a hashtag you're watching on Twitter.

Remember your event commitments. "Create new events on Google Calendar from Office 365" automatically creates a Google Calendar event whenever a new Office 365 Calendar event is created.

Make quick work of out-of-office timekeeping. "Track your work hours and work location" is a mobile flow that logs your current time and location to an Excel table you create with columns for date, timestamp and full address. You'll receive a push notification for a successful flow run.

Only post a photo once. "Selectively post Instagram photos to Facebook" is triggered when you post a photo to Instagram that contains text you specify and posts the same photo to your Facebook account.

Track your tweets. "Save tweets to an Excel file" helps you keep track of all the tweets about your business and automatically archives them to an Excel file (containing columns for tweet text, tweeted by, retweet count and created at) that you create on your favorite cloud storage service, such as OneDrive, Dropbox or Box.

Stay on top of HR-related events. "Send customized email when a candidate signs their offer document" enables you to receive a mobile notification when someone you've offered a job accepts by signature, providing you an option to send the candidate an automatic welcome email.

Practice good customer service on social media. "Notify me about negative Twitter posts" lets you keep track of when someone posts something negative about a certain Twitter keyword, sending a push notification to your iOS or Android device with a link to the post on Twitter.

 

Pamela Oldham

Based in Austin, Texas, Pamela Oldham writes on technology, healthcare, business and marketing topics. In her previous life as a senior-level marketing executive and continuing as an independent consultant, she's worked with small businesses and many of the world's best known brands in IT and healthcare.