Get your Flow on. .

I’ve talked before about my passion for automation. I loath doing repetitive tasks and fear inconsistency whilst undertaking them. Its not that I’m lazy, I recognise that people are generally busy and sometimes its hard to maintain focus on repetitive tasks, its easy to forget a step here and there amongst everything else that’s going on in your day. 

Software has evolved over the years to the point where all decent software includes a public Application Programming Interface (API), that provides consumers with access to functions and procedures to obtain, manipulate data and generally perform useful tasks. If you are thinking, yeah this is awesome, but I’m not a developer, I don’t know how to invoke an API, this all sounds too difficult. . . Let me introduce you to Microsoft Flow.

What is Flow?

Flow isn’t a new concept, its been around for a while, Zapier and IFTTT are both awesome mature products in this space and do much the same sort of thing. What makes Flow stand out is that its included as part of a Office 365 subscription. Its something that you likely already have access to. .  This is awesome, cause you don’t need to ask for permission to purchase another app or subscription. The barriers of entry that stifle innovation likely aren’t there. . . You can get started and experiment right away.

That said like most software, there are multiple plans and entitlements, detailed information regarding this can be found here: https://australia.flow.microsoft.com/en-us/pricing/

So what can flow do for me?

To a degree, this is really only limited by your imagination and the quality of the software products you interact with. The good news is that as I’m writing this it’s the year 2018 and most organisations I interact with use modern software and cloud services that will definitely work with Flow. Further more, its not limited to just the Microsoft stack. You can use Flow with third party software.

I like to think of Flow as a means to glue otherwise disparate software together. The concept is pretty simple, you choose a starting point to be your trigger, the trigger then results in actions somewhere else. Put simply an action in one place lets you trigger a sequence of events somewhere else.

Here at cloudstep we use Flow with our WordPress blog, every time we publish a new post, Flow detects this and posts a link to it on our LinkedIn company page and sends a tweet on Twitter. Sounds like magic. . .its not really, its just using the API’s behind the scenes, no coding required. . . Painless awesomeness.

If you think about your daily activities, there are likely several workflows just like this. Just remember automation doesn’t have to be elaborate to make a real difference. 

Flow provides a nice dashboard view with the state of your connections and traffic light status on the run history.

Another nice feature of Flow, is ‘Team Flows’ which allows you to share your automated workflows with others inside your organisation, removing another pet hate of mine, single points of failure within a workflow.

Still struggling for inspiration?  Microsoft provide hundreds of examples within their template library: https://australia.flow.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/

So as the year draws to a close, if you are fortunate enough to have some idle time, have a play with Flow, get automating and put some time in the bank for next year!

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