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InfoQ Homepage News Microsoft Introduces Flow for Citizen Cloud Workflow

Microsoft Introduces Flow for Citizen Cloud Workflow

On April 27, 2016 Microsoft announced a new personal workflow tool called Flow.  The platform is an “IFTTT like” tool that focuses on the automation of personal tasks by orchestrating work across popular SaaS based services.

Microsoft Flow has its roots in some other Azure services that are in preview; Microsoft PowerApps and Azure Logic Apps. Microsoft PowerApps is a development platform that focuses on business users, or citizen developers, interested in building business applications for mobile and web.  Logic Flows were previously introduced as a way to provide workflow, across disparate systems, for PowerApps.

Microsoft has pivoted from coupling PowerApps and Logic Flows together.  Stephen Siciliano, principal group pm manager at Microsoft, further explains “Microsoft Flow is useful for any business user, whether or not they want to build a PowerApp. To make this easier, we decided to make Microsoft Flow available without ever signing up and using PowerApps. You can see that there are a huge number of scenarios that can be triggered by events in the cloud without involving a PowerApp.”  This decoupling has resulted in a name change as Logic Flows are now known as just Flow.

Some of the targeted scenarios that Siciliano and his team are working on include:

Boss alert!

My manager emails me a lot, but with all the email I get, it’s easy to miss an important message. Luckily, it’s very easy to create a flow that sends me a text message whenever my boss sends me an email.

What’s happening on Twitter?
My friends will tell you I’m not very adept at social media, so to help me keep on top of it, I’m integrating tweets with a tool I am familiar with (Excel). I have a flow set up that searches for tweets about Microsoft Flow and saves them into an Excel file that I can review on my own time.

Getting files to work
I use OneDrvie for Business to store my files, but sometimes I want to easily get the files to SharePoint so my colleagues can see them. I was able to create a flow that copies files from a OneDrive for Business folder up to my team's SharePoint site.

Image Source: Integrate 2016 Conference

A strategy that Microsoft is pursuing, is creating a common platform that allows connectors to be used from other Microsoft platforms including Flow, PowerApps, Logic Apps and soon BizTalk Server. Currently, Microsoft has connectivity to 34 SaaS and PaaS platforms including Salesforce, Slack and Trello.  

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In order to improve productivity and reduce friction in on-boarding users to the service, Microsoft has provided a template gallery that aims to reduce the amount of time required to build Flows.  Some of the scenarios covered in the template gallery include:

  • Saving a new email attachment to OneDrive for Business.
  • Translating non-English emails.
  • Posting to a Slack channel when tweets match a specific hashtag.

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Azure Logic Apps have some similarities to the Flow service.  Logic Apps also focus on performing cloud-based connectivity and orchestration with an emphasis on SaaS integration.  At a recent Integrate 2016 presentation, Charles Lamanna, principal group engineering manager at Microsoft, discussed some of the scenarios when Flow should be used instead of Logic Apps/BizTalk Server:

  • Development in production: when you do not have the standard requirements like source control, testing, support and operations.
  • If you tend to spend your time working in Excel, Access and SharePoint.
  • Business users and specialists where the level of integration sophistication is low.

Image Source: Integrate 2016 Conference

Lamanna also countered with scenarios that move people towards Logic Apps: “If you are working in Visual Studio + Azure, then use BizTalk Server & Logic Apps.”

Microsoft has recognized that a Flow may start out with good intentions but may soon exceed the complexity for many business users.  As the complexity increases, IT organizations may want to take ownership and add additional capabilities, governance functions or take over supporting these interfaces.  With this scenario in mind, Microsoft is working on a one-click conversion tool that will migrate a Flow to a Logic App.  No specific dates were provided, but Microsoft is targeting CY 2016 to deliver this functionality.

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