BUSINESS INSIGHTS

Mar 20, 2018

Microsoft Flow for Fun and Profit

Steve Cardella Posted by Steve Cardella

4 Ways to use Flow in an Enterprise Environment

In 2016, Microsoft released a self-service online integration tool called Flow. It allows power users and IT folks to create simple data flows in an easy, user-friendly web application. In just an hour or two of familiarization with the tool, you can create functioning, useful workflows. Whether it’s sending out emails from your CRM or triggering a database query from the Flow smartphone app, there are loads of clever ways to use Flow in an enterprise.

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Scenario 1 – Coordinated Communications

Management wants to facilitate better communications with their employees and audience. The company maintains communication through many social media platforms, including Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. While that sounds successful on paper, managing those multiple platforms is proving more difficult than originally thought. Sometimes, a social platform is being neglected; other times, communication is inconsistent among platforms.

Flow can be used to cross-post messages across a wide variety of platforms. For instance, it can automatically post updates on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook when a new blog entry is posted on WordPress. It can alert Twitter and Facebook followers when a new YouTube video is posted. In the process, it can also archive all your communications to a SQL or an Azure database. Of course, it also has connections to other social media platforms. The automated, trigger-based actions ensure that all lines of communication to your customers or employees are engaged, without the overhead and inconsistency of manually posting to multiple platforms.

Scenario 2 – CRM Integration

One of Flow’s strengths is as a customer relationship management (CRM) software integration tool. In fact, BlueGranite uses Flow internally to integrate Dynamics 365 with email and SharePoint. One of the CRM’s duties is to track sales opportunities. Every sales opportunity needs to have various files associated with it. To ensure that every opportunity has a consistent file storage place, a workflow was developed to generate a folder on SharePoint for each opportunity as it is created, and Dynamics CRM is automatically updated with that folder location. There’s no more need to create folders or hunt around for them, as they are clearly listed in SharePoint and Dynamics, and the folder names match the opportunity names.

Another way to use Flow with Dynamics 365 is to keep tabs on the status of sales opportunities. When an opportunity is created, won or lost, those who need to know can be notified immediately. They can be sent emails, text messages, or even push notifications with the Flow app. We use notifications like this internally, as well.

Scenario 3 – Power BI Integration, Part 1

Flow combined with Power BI makes for a powerful pair. The Power BI connector in Flow can trigger execution based on measure values using data-driven alerts. That gives Power BI the ability to react actively to the data, not just passively visualize it. That’s really putting the power into Power BI.

The simplest and most obvious application is sending out emails in response to the data changes. That will notify executives and analysts of problematic situations immediately, rather than waiting for someone to check into Power BI. If you want more information on using Power BI and Flow with data-driven alerts, a colleague at BlueGranite has already covered using those in this previous blog post.

Simple notifications are only the tip of the iceberg. Flow enables Power BI to interact with other systems directly. With the ability to interact with SQL Server, Azure services, generic web services or even custom connectors (in the Premium editions), it can kick off any number of automated responses, from gathering related in-depth reports for analysis, to actively controlling hardware and software systems. Since Power BI can integrate data from multiple source systems, it can act based upon a holistic measure of business needs. This is powerful stuff.

Scenario 4 – Power BI Integration, Part 2

Microsoft Flow’s interaction with Power BI is not just a one-way ticket. Flow can also feed records into Power BI datasets. Flow’s triggers and actions can track lots of activity that would be otherwise difficult. With premium editions, it can do that tracking in near real-time. For instance, a customer support administrator might track traffic on a support email address with Flow. He can run it through Microsoft Cognitive Services Text Analytics for sentiment analysis or key phrase extraction and deposit the results into a Power BI dashboard. That keeps a running tab on hot support needs. This sort of tracking can be done out of the box with Flow. With some creative thinking, Flow writing to Power BI datasets really enables some interesting applications.

Going with the Flow

By going to the Flow website, you can see lots of additional ideas and templates for its use. They cover personal to enterprise solutions, and everything in between. Flows can be simple data dumps or include some amount of internal logic. Flow advertises over 200 connectors (with more always coming) to services both cloud-based and on-premises. If you need help going with the Flow, contact BlueGranite. We’re here to help.

Exploring Maps in Power BI
Steve Cardella

About The Author

Steve Cardella

Steve is a Solution Consultant at BlueGranite. Certified in Microsoft SQL Server, he has over 10 years of experience in IT and programming. His areas of expertise include ETL, custom integrations, and reporting and data analysis services. Steve received his Bachelors of Science from Franciscan University and enjoys working with data surrounding retail, marketing, nonprofit, and manufacturing industries.

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