In an every day office setting, we go through many routine activities. Interacting with several entities like emails, social media, task lists, project planning etc. are so ingrained in us that we just consider them to be ways of life. In most cases, we are using a combination of these entities, sometimes in a sequence, to accomplish greater tasks. As one gets involved more in these greater tasks, a desire for automation arises at some point – it doesn’t matter whether you are a small or large business. The complexity and occurrence of the tasks may be different, but the desire to reduce manual effort exists across all sorts of businesses.
What do we mean by automation though? An extremely simple example would be getting an email notification when someone posts on our Business’s Facebook page. Maybe we want that person to become a lead in our CRM automatically so we could start a lead nurturing program. How about when someone emails us a file, it gets extracted and stored in a OneDrive folder so every team member now has access to it? There are definitely tools available to automate these processes, but they come at a cost. For small businesses though, spending on automation tools may not be an option. But what if a broader platform is provided to them that is not only free but also works very well with almost all the products they use on a daily basis? Wouldn’t it be nice to have smarter processes in your business that will make it easier to get notified, create records automatically on certain triggers, extract files from emails, insert rows into Excel for data analysis, create task lists, convert to text to audio where needed? As you can see, these are tasks that we are used to doing every day. In most cases though, we do all of this manually.
Microsoft Flow is a new web based service that strives to do just that – automate activities that we perform every day. These activities can be based on various triggers/actions/conditions; can be in a sequence, and can interact with social media, productivity tools (like Email, Excel, OneDrive, SharePoint), planning tools (like Project, Wunderlist), translation tools (translating to various languages, text to speech), and various other technologies and products that we use on a regular basis. By using Flows, we can not only automate tasks but also increase productivity, improve collaboration, speed up communication, and save time.
Let’s look at a very simple example to see Flows in action. Let’s say you are a small, web design shop. You have not more than 5 people in your company, and you also occasionally collaborate with other freelancers. You have a blog where you post weekly updates about your company and your services. The weekly blog is posted to Facebook every Monday. Someone, a prospect, who is researching web design companies, is intrigued by your blog post on Facebook and writes a question on your page. Wouldn’t it be nice if you got an email notification when someone wrote on your Facebook page? If your coworker is blind or has visual impairment, the Facebook posts can also be converted to text to speech and emailed to that person. Typically, you would want to not only just answer their question but also have them as a prospect in your CRM for nurturing purposes. While you answer the question, how about this status message gets directly entered into Excel so your social media person could report on that information?
Let’s see how we can automate these two processes using Microsoft Flow. The first activity, which is automating posting our blog to Facebook regularly, is short and sweet. (Video length: 44 seconds)
The next step of activities are initiated when someone, who presumably likes what we post on our Facebook, posts something on our wall, showing interest in our services. This is when we insert the Facebook message and other details automatically into Excel (beneficial for reporting and analysis on our social media activities), convert that message to audio and email it to someone within the company, and enter the person who posted on Facebook as a Lead in Dynamics CRM. Let’s see how all this is done in a Flow. (Video length: 10:52 minutes)
So, let’s fast forward a bit – the prospect liked your messages, and after a little bit of nurturing – a few emails, phone calls, and appointments, they sign up for your services (and thus become a client), and the project starts. During the project, there is a lot of email exchanges that happen between you and the client. The client sends you files that are to be used by other members of your team and also the freelancers throughout the duration of the project. Would you forward that email to everyone involved so they all have the files? Or would you extract that email attachment into a One Drive folder that all team members have access to? In either case, you have to manually take some action. How about the file is extracted automatically without you having to worry about it ? If you are collaborating with various people, you would also create tasks in something like Wunderlist. How about those project tasks are created automatically as well?
The Flow below shows how all that is done. (Video length: 7:29 minutes)
As you can see, you can automate various activities, often times in a sequence to enhance collaboration between team members, improve communication, save time, and alleviate human error. What we see above is just the tip of the iceberg. With some planning, you can get some really cool “Flows” running, that will enhance your days at work, and help you achieve more!
Note: Microsoft Flow is still in preview. I had a few inconsistent results while testing but those should be taken care of when it comes out of preview.