By Anthony Baratta
Hooking up SharePoint to the World of Data
If your enterprise uses SharePoint for a range of different functions, then one of the apps you need to be using is Microsoft Flow. If you haven't heard of MS Flow before now, don't worry: you haven't been living under a rock. Microsoft made the Flow app widely available on Halloween of this year, which means that it's only been around for a few weeks as a production ready cloud application. Already, though, this app is changing the way that users create and automate workflows in SharePoint.
What Is Microsoft Flow?
As the name suggests, Microsoft Flow is a workflow program, designed to take complex, repetitive, or tedious business processes and automate them. MS Flow beta was first announced earlier this year and exists independently of SharePoint. For months, companies have been testing this software to integrate systems and automate processes across their enterprises.
What kind of processes, you may ask? You can visit Microsoft's official page for MS Flow to learn a bit more, but the fact is that the possibilities are nearly endless. The example Microsoft gives on their site is about compiling leads from Twitter. You can automatically peruse Twitter for people who mention your brand or show interest in your products. From there, you can take those names and add them to your sales prospects list in Dynamics 365, or to your email newsletter list in MailChimp. Many other products and services can integrate within a Microsoft Flow workflow as well—from Dropbox to Excel to Google Calendar to Slack.
If you have used IFTTT, then you have a good idea on what MS Flow is all about.
Microsoft Flow for SharePoint
While Microsoft Flow isn't strictly a SharePoint feature or program, though, it is still guaranteed to be a useful tool for SharePoint users. According to Microsoft, Flow currently integrates with 63 different services—including both Microsoft programs and third-party apps. SharePoint is the first service listed on Microsoft's list of compatible services. You can view the rest of the compatible services here, just to start getting an idea of the kind of workflow network you might be able to create with SharePoint.
With so many different apps and services supported by Microsoft Flow, it can be somewhat difficult to start envisioning precisely how you might start using Flow as part of your SharePoint setup. The scope of compatible programs simply makes for a daunting start.
It's easier to think of Microsoft Flow as a way of getting files and data from other apps and services into SharePoint (or vice versa). For instance, this article outlines the steps you can take to integrate MailChimp with SharePoint. Microsoft Flow makes it possible to set up a SharePoint workflow so that, when someone subscribes to your MailChimp list, they also get added to a list in your SharePoint. In this case, you are essentially using Flow to make sure information is as consistent and up-to-date as possible across all your platforms.
Earlier this year, you would have been able to set up that workflow between MailChimp and SharePoint using the Microsoft Flow app. Today, the workflow process is even easier, because Flow has been integrated directly into SharePoint. You can simply go into a SharePoint list, find the button that says "Add flow," and click on it. This process opens your Microsoft Flow site and lets you set up a workflow between SharePoint and any other compatible service that you use.
As we said earlier, the possibilities here are nearly endless. Do you want to send any documents that your staff upload to your Google Drive or Dropbox folder into a SharePoint document library? With Flow, you can set up that kind of workflow easily. Do you want to integrate your SharePoint calendar with your Google Calendar? With Microsoft Flow, that process is even easier and more convenient than it already was. Do you want all the people in your Slack channel to be notified when a new project document is uploaded to SharePoint? You can set up that kind of process with Flow.
The great thing about Microsoft Flow's general availability—and especially its tight integration with SharePoint—is that it makes creating workflows in SharePoint easier than ever before. Previously, you could create workflows to do a lot of different things, but they required a bit of setup and know-how. As for integrating other programs (especially third-party apps) with SharePoint, those options weren't always available.
With Flow, you can configure a huge number of workflow processes, and you can do it without knowing a thing about coding. Flow makes the workflow setup process accessible to any enterprise and allows you to integrate SharePoint with a broader range of services to boot. Its arrival on the scene stands to be a huge, landmark moment in the history of SharePoint's growth and evolution.
The best way to start realizing the full potential of MS Flow might be to start using it and finding out how you can link different programs. With that said, if you need help learning the ropes of Flow, 2Plus2 can lend a hand. Please contact us at 510 652-7700 or fill out our free consultation request form to get in touch with our team.