Microsoft Flow is a service that helps you automate repetitive tasks that eat up your time. It works with over a hundred services – the possibilities are almost endless. You can create a condition in one service, and then specify what action should be taken as a result in a different service. It is even possible to include branching in the automated decision-making.
To take a simple example: below is a screenshot of two Flows I have been running for the last two months. One Flow saves all my email attachments to a predefined folder on my cloud storage account (OneDrive for Business). The other Flow looks at those saved attachments, and if they are a compressed .ZIP file, then it unpacks them and puts them in a separate folder. It took ten minutes to set up, and hasn’t needed any subsequent maintenance. Each time a Flow checks a condition and takes an action, that is referred to as a “run.” You can look at the history of runs for each Flow you create.
What are the requirements for working with Flow?
To automate tasks involving one or more systems, Flow requires you to provide it with credentials to facilitate its access to your accounts on those systems. In the above examples, I provided my Office 365 credentials since that service provides both my email and my cloud storage account.
What does it cost?
The free version of the Flow service allows you to create an unlimited number of different automated Flows, and each Flow can run 750 times per month. In addition, the service will check every 15 minutes to see if a Flow needs to be run. This makes the free version ideal for testing and small-scale operations. At the other end of the scale is Flow Plan 2, which allows each Flow to run 15,000 times per month and checks every minute to see if a Flow needs to run. In addition, Flow Plans 1 and 2 both include Team Flows, which offers the ability to share authorship and management of flows with others in your organization.
What do I need to be aware of?
A huge benefit of automation is that it gets work done 24/7 without human intervention – the same task is done the same way whether it is done once, or a hundred times. Conversely, a potential risk with automation is that it takes actions without human intervention! Creating automated processes using services like Microsoft’s Flow is sometimes referred to as “code-less coding”, meaning you can select a few options in the service and it will perform a task that would otherwise require custom software code to be written. Writing good code is hard work and takes time and money, so automation services have a great appeal. However, even though Flow can make life easier, it is still taking actions on your business data – one of your most valuable assets. In my example above, I’m just saving email attachments to a folder. However, if I was using Flow to create entries in a project management system whenever an email was received, or to send out automated emails to other people, and so on, then more caution and testing would be called for before using Flow on real business data.
Is it possible to preview the Team Flow service before I sign up for a paid service?
Yes, you can sign up for a 90-day free trial of the Flow plan 1 or plan 2 here. The same page gives further details of each plan. You may already have the Flow service included as part of your Office 365 or Dynamics 365 subscription.
How do I get started?
The entire flow experience is web based, so just head over to https://flow.microsoft.com and start creating – just be sure to test thoroughly before deployment in your production environment.