Flow is a new workflow and automation system from Microsoft, which will be provided as part of the Office 365 suite. Flow is currently in Preview and is available to all current users of Office 365 on a free license for you test and try out new upcoming Microsoft technologies.

The introduction of Flow is quite an important milestone in the workflow story from Microsoft, no longer is workflow simply confined to lists and libraries within a SharePoint site, it is now a tool that can connect to multiple services whether they are external or internal to an organisation, to create rich flows of data between services that were previously difficult to integrate with unless you had a developer level skill-set.

The key goals of Flow are to “Automate almost any time-consuming task or process” & “Connect your favourite services”. Microsoft have done a great job in making sure that popular services are already connectable right now in the Preview, there are currently 45 services that can be connected to, business tools such as SharePoint Online, Dynamics CRM, Salesforce, and social media tools such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram amongst many others.

These Flows can be easily created by tech savvy business users using an in browser designer tool, which if you have come from a SharePoint background this is a big change. Previously workflows could only be created using the SharePoint Designer client tool, which required installation to build and deploy workflows to a SharePoint site. With Flow, all you need is a web browser.
Flow also comes with an accompanying mobile app (iOS, Windows, Android) which is useful for tracking the activity of your flows on the go but also serves as a notification channel for Flows. Within a Flow you can set a Push Notification action that will be displayed on the mobile device further enhancing and modernising the workflow story.

Our SharePoint HRMS uses traditional SharePoint workflow to drive and inform employees, HR and Line Managers (essentially everyone who has a stake in the process), when holidays, expenses, appraisals etc. have been invoked and require some form of decision, or as a notification. Flow adds an extra layer in helping to ensure that our own SharePoint based HRMS is easy to administer and remains as agile as possible for clients.

I have been playing around with Flow for a few weeks and my initial impressions are that this is a huge leap forward for Microsoft and I can see Flow being at the heart of the workflow story from Microsoft, slowly replacing the old SharePoint Designer workflows as the number of actions and services that you can connect to, are expanded. The designer interface is incredibly simple to use and connecting to other services is just as easy.

Flow is also integrated with PowerApps, another service in Preview from Microsoft, that makes developing and deploying Office 356 based mobile applications easily and with any code.