The Future of SharePoint Workflow Tools, Part 2

Is it time to change your SharePoint workflow options? Microsoft is once again evolving workflows for a new generation of SharePoint. Good time to explore!

By Cathy Dew

When SharePoint 2013 made its big debut, the new SharePoint workflow tools were among the most significant talking points. Between SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013, arguably no functionality evolved more substantially than workflow. With SharePoint 2016 and the latest version of SharePoint Online, though, these once-fresh workflow features are no longer being updated. This situation begs the question: what’s the next step for enterprises that want to stay on the cutting edge with workflow management?

In part one of this two part series we discussed the history of SharePoint Workflows and the now legacy development options. In part two, we’ll cover the two newest cloud based workflow tools called MS Flow and a MS Logic Apps.

Making the Jump to Microsoft Flow

Microsoft introduced MS Flow in April 2016, touting the cloud-based service as a means of building and automating workflows across a “growing number of applications.” At the time, Microsoft promoted Flow primarily to set up notifications. For example, with Flow, users could get a notification when a new file appeared in OneDrive or Dropbox.

Notifications, though, are just the tip of the iceberg with Flow. The software makes it easy to automate a range of time-consuming tasks across an entire ecosystem of applications. As we mentioned above, when Microsoft moved workflow support to Windows Azure Workflow, one of the key benefits was cross-platform support. Teams could use WAW to manage workflows not just for SharePoint, but for other Windows and web applications as well. That advantage is emphasized even further with Microsoft Flow, which enabled extremely intuitive workflow automation and management for programs like SharePoint, Outlook, OneDrive, Twitter, Excel, Yammer, Dropbox, Facebook, Slack, Google Calendar, and more than 150 others.

By default, Microsoft Flow allows users to customize up to 50 flows. Some enterprises will obviously need more—especially considering the way that Flow brings a long list of external apps into the equation. Luckily, anyone can request additional flows from Microsoft. Because Microsoft is open to giving teams and users extra flows if they need them, there isn’t really a drawback to switching from SharePoint Designer to Microsoft Flow.

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The Microsoft Flow software is intuitive and cool!

For the record, Microsoft does refer to MS Flow as “the successor to SharePoint Designer for many common business practices.” What is your team’s primary use for SharePoint workflow tools? For most enterprises, the answer is document review or approval. Reviews and approvals have been the bread and butter of SharePoint workflows since the beginning. Microsoft Flow supports this type of functionality, along with other common tasks such as onboarding and offboarding, synchronizing files across multiple locations, and more. The presence of these features and more will make MS Flow SharePoint’s “default tool for building business automation” going forward.

Microsoft Flow allows you to schedule “runs” for each of your workflows. These runs determine how often a workflow activates. Sometimes, a specific event will trigger a run, such as when someone uploads a new file that needs to be reviewed and approved. Other times, you might run a workflow every 30 minutes, such as for file backup or synchronization. The ability to customize the scheduling of workflow runs is built into MS Flow.

Microsoft has several tiers of Microsoft Flow, depending on how many runs you need per month and how frequently you want your runs to occur. With the Free tier, you get 750 runs per user per month, with a maximum flow frequency of every 15 minutes. The highest tier MS Flow plan, meanwhile, gives you 15,000 runs per month and lets you set flow frequency to one minute. This plan costs $15 per user per month, though you can add additional runs for an added cost. All plans have the limit of 50 workflows, but again, you can request Microsoft for more if necessary.

Microsoft Logic Apps – Enterprise Level Workflow

In January 2017, Microsoft announced the availability of a new tool call MS Logic Apps. Logic Apps are another form of iPaaS (integration Platform as a Service). Similar in concept to MS Flow, Logic Apps is workflow on steroids.

The Logic App framework is not for the front-line user, but intended to provide the company developer a high performance, fully integrated solution for connecting backend systems together. Like all cloud based solutions, Logic Apps has a visual designer and templates available to speed up your connection development and reduce logic errors.

In addition to the designer, Microsoft has created over a hundred connectors to simplify tying separate systems together.  If you can’t find your connector needs, Microsoft has made available the Logic Apps API so you can create your own custom connectors.

Pricing for Logic Apps is similar to MS Flow but focused on 100k or 1 million actions per month, versus several thousand a month with MS Flow.

Start Getting the Hang of Microsoft Flow & Logic Apps: Set up a Consultation with 2Plus2

The Microsoft Flow software is intuitive and cool. In the long run, most teams and projects will probably prefer using Flow to using SharePoint Designer. Since Microsoft has already said that Flow is the future of SharePoint workflow automation, there is little reason for enterprises to delay the jump to Flow. Developers and Enterprise Teams will want to focus their workflow needs with Logic Apps. SharePoint workflow probably never meet their needs, and having a new cloud based workflow tool designed for the Enterprise is a welcome addition to the company tool kit.

With that said, there is always a learning curve to adopting new SharePoint workflow systems. In particular, allocating your flows between MS Flow and Logic Apps can be daunting—especially if your organization runs a lot of workflows on a day-to-day basis. If your team needs help getting the hang of Microsoft Flow & Logic Apps, navigating the cross-platform potential of the services, or figuring out which pricing tier is right for you, 2Plus2 can help. We have spent the past year and a half getting to know MS Flow and Logic Apps as well as we currently understand SharePoint Designer. We can help spearhead your team’s transition to the new cloud-based systems.

Are you interested in learning and adopting the newest workflow tools? Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.
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