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What is 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.

Benefits of Microsoft Flow

1. Ease of Use

One of the biggest advantages of Flow is that it is incredibly easy to use. Flow was designed for non-developers, so even someone without technical background can use it to create workflows. The simplicity of the tool and the small learning curve are a definite advantage over other process automation applications.

2. Lots of Connectors!

Microsoft Flow has hundreds of connectors that can be used to connect to data from many different sources right out of the box. Large collection of easy to use, pre-built connectors makes integrations with third party applications, such as Slack or Dropbox, a breeze.

Microsoft Flow comes with over 250 ready-to-use connectors

3. Creating Custom Connectors

Another benefit of Flow is the ability to create custom connectors with the same straightforward no-code approach. All that’s required is understanding what the API of the application that you want to integrate with Microsoft Flow looks like. In other words, the connector just needs to tell Flow what the API is and which requests and responses they support. The process for creating a custom connector is as simple as creating workflow in Flow.

Weaknesses of Microsoft Flow

Before implementing Flow, it’s worthwhile to consider the limitations of the tool.

1. Latency

One of the main weaknesses of Flow is its latency. Very complex workflows used when designing a webpage or program can significantly affect performance especially if conditions and actions are left open.

Another issue with latency is the time it takes for the flow to trigger. Depending on the subscription plan, it could take up to 15 minutes for a single flow to complete. Microsoft Flow is an attractive tool because it is bundled with Microsoft Office 365. The most basic version of Flow comes without an added cost, making it easy to get started. However, many users don’t realize that there is a difference in flow frequency times between the available plans. The free Flow plan has a maximum flow frequency of 15 minutes while the next tier has a maximum flow frequency of only 5 minutes.

2019 Microsoft Flow Plan Comparison Chart

2. Permissions

In Flow, it isn’t possible to set/change permissions on a SharePoint item without the usage of a web service or a third-party connector. Currently, there is no out of the box Microsoft solution available which is a serious limitation of the product.

3. Creator Based

Flows are creator based. Since the creator of the flow is the one doing the action, the actions will be attributed to them. This might cause issues depending on what is the goal of the flow. To illustrate this, let’s consider setting up a flow to send an email from an alias. Since the workflow is based on the creator of the flow, then a person who has access to that email alias MUST be the one to create the flow.

Source: Whatls

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