A typical business requirement I often come across is the ability to automatically provision a SharePoint document location associated with an Account, Opportunity, or Project record in Dynamics 365, with a predefined list of folders to follow a consistent structure.
What is Microsoft Flow? With Flow you can setup automated workflows between your favourite apps and services to synchronise records and files, receive notifications, collect data, and more – and forget about repetitive tasks you or your team have to do.
Why do we need Microsoft Flow? A Microsoft blog article summarises this very well:
“Every organization faces constant pressure to do more with less. While technology is often key to operating more effectively and efficiently, cost and complexity have often prevented organizations from taking maximum advantage of the potential benefits.”
“We know not every business problem can be solved with off-the-shelf solutions. But developing custom solutions has traditionally been too costly and time consuming for many of the needs teams and departments face—especially those projects that integrate across multiple data sources or require delivery across multiple devices from desktop to mobile. As a result, too many technology needs end up unsolved or under-optimized. We piece together spreadsheets, email chains, and manual processes to fill in the gaps.”
“(PowerApps and) Microsoft Flow are both aimed squarely at these gaps. They give people who best understand their needs and challenges the power to quickly meet them, without the time, complexity and cost of custom software development.”
Some of the common business problems Flow can solve:
“I get hundreds of emails every day, and my notification options are all-or-nothing. It’s hard to keep up with all that traffic when I’m travelling. I’d like to get an SMS when specific people like a key customer prospect reach out directly to me.”
“Our teams are constantly meeting people at events and following up over email. We want to ensure we don’t miss any of these leads, but re-typing information from emails into our CRM system is tedious.”
“We work with agencies who create content and upload large files to OneDrive or Dropbox accounts. Our teams want to know right when the latest files arrive, without having to check every 30 minutes, and then they want to transfer a backup to SharePoint Online as soon as it comes through.”
Flow is not a new concept – there are a number of similar offerings, such as IFTT (If This then That), and Zapier. Here’s how they compare at a glance:
|IFTT||300+||No||More consumer apps, free|
|Zapier||500+||Yes||More business apps, free + paid plans|
|Flow||50+||Yes||Microsoft Office app integration|
- In terms of connectors (i.e. what apps and services these platforms can connect to), Zapier is the leader. However, it is worth noting that Flow is a new Microsoft product launched October 31st 2016 that receives frequent and continuous updates.
- In the context of Dynamics 365, Only Zapier and Flow has native connectors. Both have connectors to CRM, but only Flow has connectors to other Dynamics 365 apps – including for Finance, Operations, and Common Data Service (previously called Common Data Model).
- IFTT is more consumer focused and is free – e.g. “Save photos you’re tagged in on Facebook to a Dropbox folder”, and “Back up new iOS photos you take to Dropbox”. Zapier are more business focused and “trusted at companies large and small”. Flow is similar. In particular, it is targeted for power users, and has more integration with Microsoft products and services, such as Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS), Office 365, SharePoint, and Dynamics 365, as well as other common services like Dropbox, Twitter, and Facebook.
- Multi-step flows. You can setup and execute a sequence of events, such as in the example above: when a new tweet is posted by a user with more than 100 followers, create a new lead record in Dynamics 365, and add to a marketing list in MailChimp.
- Conditions. Obviously being a workflow engine, it needs to have the ability to setup IF statements. Flow supports nested IF statements (i.e. IF within an IF.
- Access to on-prem data. Using the data gateway, Flow is able to connect to on-prem systems, such as SQL Server.
- Data Loss Prevenetion (DLP). A newly added feature to allow prevention of business data or files from being transferred to and stored in personal services such as Dropbox and Google Drive.
- Business-app Connectors. A variety of connectors such as for SharePoint, OneDrive, NAV, Excel, Yammer, Dynamics 365 (CRM, Operations, Financials, CDS, PowerApps, etc.), Salesforce, and MailChimp.
- Mobile App. An app that provides the ability to design and create flows, view and control them, trigger them anytime with a single tap, and receive push notifications.
- Multiple Environments. A newly added feature to allow isolation boundary for your flows, connections, gateways, and other resources.
Flow has connectors for 50+ services, some of which are shown in the screenshot below. Some services are marked as Premium, such as Salesforce, Common Data Service, and MailChimp, i.e. they are not available in the free version.
Templates are services connected together to meet business requirements / solve business problems. There are thousands of templates available ready for configuration and use, published by Microsoft and as user contributions. You can publish your flows as templates for other people to discover and use. Here are some examples of Flow templates:
I have outlined above some business problems that Flow attempts to address, and hopefully the templates above give you some more ideas about what else can be done. Here are some other examples and possibilities:
- Insert Twitter / Facebook posts as Lead or Case records in Dynamics 365
- Synchronise Marketing List members between Dynamics 365 and MailChimp
- Copy file attachments from an email (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org) to respective client folders in SharePoint
- Replicate case records when entered in Salesforce to Dynamics 365 / CDS
The final part of this article is licensing (and pricing), which can be found in more details here: https://flow.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/.
Flow is available for free, Plan 1, Plan 2, and as part of Office 365 / Dynamics 365 subscriptions. The main differences between the free, the various plans, and subscriptions are in the maximum number of runs per month (e.g. 750 for the free version, versus 2,000 if as part of Office 365 / Dynamics 365), maximum flow frequency (15 mins versus 5 mins), SLA, maximum custom APIs to connect to your own systems, and number of environments available.
Previously, constrained to only by “Last Updated”, you can now change the sorting of the activities in the Activity Wall in Dynamics 365. Open the Form Designer and bring open the Social Pane properties. This is a small but welcome improvement to organisations I’ve come across commonly wanting to sort by date created or due date.
“Q&A” is a powerful feature of Microsoft Power BI, whereby you can ask questions about your data using natural language and get answers instantly. It is a game changer as it truly empowers business users to rapidly come up with charts, reports and dashboards and turn data into insights. Gone are the days when you had to come up with report specifications and wait for days (or even longer) for the reports to be developed, only then to find out they were not what you had imagined and any further changes would cost more and take longer time!
There are times when I (or customers) require a specific version of Microsoft Dynamics CRM instance, and when configuring a new online instance, whether in an existing tenant or setting-up a new trial environment, what provisioned is always the latest version (2016 Update 1 at the time of writing).
As consultants, we often perform an analysis of CRM systems belonging to prospects or customers, perhaps because they have performance issues, they want to upgrade, or we need to understand more about their current implementations.
If the CRM is on-premises, it is useful to find out about which out-of-the-box CRM entities are used, custom entities if any, number of records, and size of tables. You can find out all about this easily through few clicks and without having to write any T-SQL.