Microsoft Flow

Microsoft Flow, now called Power Automate, is cloud-based software that allows employees to create and automate workflows and tasks across multiple applications and services without help from developers. Automated workflows are called flows. To create a flow, the user specifies what action should take place when a specific event occurs.

Once a flow is built, it can be managed on the desktop or through an app on a mobile device. Flow integrates with various Microsoft services and apps, including Power BI, PowerApps, Dynamics 365 and Office 365.

How Microsoft Flow is used

Microsoft Flow automates everything from simple push notifications and content management to complex business processes with defined steps and stages.

The most common use of Flow is to trigger notifications. When a new lead is added to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, for example, an automated workflow can send sales representatives an email or text message with details about the lead.

Flow can also be used to copy files. For example, when a new file is added to Dropbox or OneDrive for Business, an automated workflow can instantly post a copy of the file to SharePoint.

Microsoft Flow is also used to collect data. For instance, if the user wants to see what people are saying about a particular brand, they can create a trigger that will capture new tweets that mention the brand and put a copy of each tweet in a SQL database for sentiment mining.

The Microsoft Flow Bot works within Teams workspaces. Using the Flow bot, employees can trigger flows within Teams conversations. One example use, provided by Microsoft, is team members can run a flow that sends a text message to a support engineer to flag an issue or to log an issue in an Excel spreadsheet.

Key features of Microsoft Flow

Microsoft Flow does not just integrate with other Microsoft products. It can be used with a wide variety of apps and services -- what Microsoft calls connectors -- including Salesforce, SQL Server, Twitter, Box, DocuSign, Slack, Skype and Google Drive. A connector is an API proxy that allows these services to connect to Microsoft Flow, as well as PowerApps and Azure Logic Apps, in the cloud.

Users can take advantage of an extensive library of prebuilt flows, also known as templates. Example templates include the ability to:

  • Save Gmail attachments to OneDrive
  • Send an email to any audience when a Power BI data alert is triggered
  • Copy SharePoint list items into a CSV each week
  • Save tweets that include a specific hashtag to a SharePoint list
  • Get a push notification when you receive an email from your boss

If none of the templates fit the process that needs to be automated, users can also make their own flows. Microsoft Flow is designed so that nontechnical staff can automate workflows without the help of a developer. The Microsoft Flow Admin Center allows an administrator to manage users, permissions and roles and ensure that employee-created flows comply with data loss prevention policies.

Microsoft Flow licensing

Each flow that is triggered, whether automatically or manually, is considered a run. Checks for new data don't count as runs. Each of Microsoft's three pricing plans for Flow includes a certain number of runs and checks. The Flow Free version includes up to 750 runs per month and 15-minute checks. The mid-tier Flow Plan 1 supports 4,500 runs per month and three-minute checks. The business level plan, Flow Plan 2, supports up to 15,000 runs per month and checks every minute, along with "premium" level connectors, policy settings and business process flows.

Certain versions of Dynamics 365 and Office 365 also include Flow.

Alternatives to Microsoft Flow

There are a wide variety of low-code or codeless automation tools and cloud-based apps that connect apps and automate business and office processes and tasks. Microsoft Flow's main competitors are IFTTT and Zapier. Here is how they compare:

IFTTT -- If This Then That is a free web-based tool that uses simple syntax and conditional statements to automate workflows. Its simplicity makes for an easy roll out. It offers single action workflows.

Zapier -- Zapier can automate multistep workflows and has connections with more third-party apps. Zapier has a free option, as well as two tears of paid monthly subscription plans for businesses.

Microsoft Flow -- Flow can automate more complex processes, incorporating for-loops, while-loops and if-else conditional statements. There is a free version of Microsoft Flow, as well as two monthly subscription options, which are currently $5 or $15 per month.

This was last updated in November 2018

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