Microsoft & the Digital Workplace – Part 2 – Making your tasks “Flow”

*UPDATED DECEMBER 2017*

Welcome to part two of the digital workplace series. In the last post we discussed what the digital workplace is and why you should care about this buzz word.

As you can probably guess from the title, the focus for this post is around personal task automation and Microsoft Flow.

What is Microsoft Flow?

Flow is part of Microsoft’s Business Platform that is designed to drive your own digital transformation. Being a cloud-based software tool it allows people to create and automate tasks across multiple applications and services without the need for developer help.

The focus of Microsoft Flow is clearly on personal task automation. From my experience it is not designed for large scale, complex workflow applications but simple task automation.

This becomes very apparent when you look at the following:

  • Run duration and retention – Flows are limited to a 30 day run duration. When you think about a leave request, the run time is fairly short lived. I submit a request, my manager approves, done. In most cases this does not take longer than a week.
    When you start looking at cross organisational processes involving multiple departments, you are usually looking at long running workflows that easily exceed a 30 day run time. Think about employee recruitment and on-boarding processes that might be required to pause for more than 30 days, e.g. waiting until the employee starts to then continue the process.
  • Connections – Connections are personal and linked to the flow designer’s account in most cases. The person itself is at the center of a flow, not processes that span across an organisation or even encompass external scenarios.

Why you should care and automate your tasks?

Simply put, to make your life easier so that you can focus on what is really important in your job. We can all spend a lot of time on boring repetitive tasks in our daily activities. Flow is designed to help you quickly automate these tasks and free you up to focus on the strategic and valuable parts of your job.

Let’s look at an example in my own job. My team works closely with our support team, taking care of partner related queries that we classify as “How to” cases. These get captured and assigned in Salesforce. However for most of our other tasks we use Microsoft Planner. That makes it two sources for task management which can result in oversights, missing deadlines and lower partner satisfaction simply because our tasks are distributed.

To make it easier for the team and also for myself to get a complete overview for our 1:1s every week, I have designed a simple Flow. Every time a case gets modified the Flow fires and checks if the assignee is in my team. If it is, it creates a task with all the relevant information and link to the case in Planner.

It took me about 2hrs initially to plan and implement it. It saves us a lot of time and headache as a team in the long term.

Real world examples

If you don’t know where to start with your own or your team’s automation, here are some examples that I have deployed and use on a daily basis. I will dive into these in more detail spread across a few other, smaller blogs.

  • Personal task tracking – Flow and Planner combined are simple but powerful. It allows me to create a task for ad hoc things that come up in conversations right from my mobile.
  • Sentiment analytics – Social media is an integral part of my team’s responsibility. I am using Flow to feed a Power BI dashboard, allowing me to track sentiments, followers and other key statistics for my team’s Twitter engagement.
  • Calendar synchronisation – I have a work and a personal calendar. Based on keywords in my work calendar, Flow updates my personal calendar and vice versa. This ensures I am always up to date and don’t miss any events, social or work related. Also any work related travel blockers are also synced with my girlfriend’s calendar, so she knows where I am and when we are free to book in social events.

How do I get Flow?

Flow is part of your Office 365 and Dynamics 365 subscription. If you run out of Flow executions, you can always buy additional plans. The pricing, limits, etc can be found here.

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