Wouldn't it be nice if your work calendar synced up with your personal calendar automatically? What if your Human Resources office automatically sent an email to everyone on staff on Thursday, reminding them to get their time sheets in for the week? What if you got an email every time your company was mentioned on Twitter?
All the above simple business processes are a pain when someone has to do them manually — adding meetings to two online calendars, remembering to send out a weekly reminder or logging in to the company’s Twitter account (that one's hard for people who may not live on social media).
But if these processes were automated, that would free up the people who have been doing them manually — and ensure no one ever forgets to do them.
You may think that you have to shell out for a big business process management (BPM) software package, or bring in an expert to automate these processes, but if you've already invested in Microsoft Office, you may already have the do-it-yourself BPM tool you need at your fingertips: Microsoft Flow.
Flow is included in several Office 365 and Dynamics 365 packages — in fact, if you already have Office, you may already have Flow but you may have ignored it to focus on the apps you already know.
So if you haven't checked out Flow yet, allow us to introduce you.
What is Microsoft Flow and who needs it?
Microsoft Flow is a lightweight process automation application. It connects your applications to form simple workflows — linking Outlook with OneDrive to save all email attachments to a OneDrive account, for example. If you've used the free service If This Then That (IFTTT), Flow will feel familiar to you; it links applications with chains of commands to automate tasks.
Flow is business process management for small businesses or for organizations that might not have experience with BPM.
For example, Flow can be used to:
- automate individual employees' manual tasks
- create workflows that affect the organization as a whole
- trigger a more complex process automation
For example, any employee in an organization with the Microsoft toolset can create a workflow to easily automate a repetitive manual business process, using the templates included with Flow. If Human Resources sends out a monthly newsletter, an automated email can be set up by the employee responsible for the newsletter to cut down on their workload.
By Christina Morillo on Pexels
At the organization level, Flow can automate a business process or a group of business processes that have been eating up multiple employees' work hours. Approvals can be automated using Flow; if an employee tries to add a feature in PowerApps, a request for approval can be sent to a manager and a follow-up email can be sent to the person who tried to add the feature. If two companies that work together are both Microsoft shops, Flow can be used to set up a workflow between the two companies.
Flow also provides a digital trail — the organization can review all flows set up by individual employees and can show when they've been in use.
Although Flow is used to connect Microsoft's software — like Word, SharePoint and Outlook — the application comes with several connectors that lets Flow talk to outside software and applications. Flow can connect Office with social media, for example, or a CRM or any number of tools, including more robust BPM software.
Because of those connectors, Flow can kick off complex workflows that it may not be able to handle itself, meaning that if an organization is already using a heavy-duty business process management software to create complex automated workflows, Flow can connect to that software and act as the trigger that kicks off the workflow.
Business process management at your fingertips
Automating business processes is often seen as the purview of technology consultants or specialists. Flow, a simple connection engine, puts business process management within everyone's reach.
For the ordinary employee who might say something like "I wish there was a way to sync up all my calendars so I could see them on my phone," Flow is a way to make that process happen, quickly and easily, without code and possibly without even having to involve the IT department.
When your entire organization has access to BPM, your imagination — and the imaginations of your team members — are the only limit to how much value Flow can provide to your business.
Interested in learning more about Flow and business process management? Contact us. We are a Microsoft Gold Partner in Wisconsin, focusing on — among other specialties — cloud and application integration throughout the Midwest. And better yet, our experts can show you how to make the most of your investment in Office 365.
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