Sweet Spots, Problem Areas and Use Cases
Microsoft SharePoint Designer has been a preferred product for many years however, it is no longer Microsoft’s chosen option for creating workflows. SharePoint Designer has been taken over by Microsoft Flow; this offers a new, cloud based engine which is based on Logic Apps. Will it fill the shoes of SharePoint Designer? Let’s explore the sweet spots and problem areas in Flow by looking at both the technical and business sides of it.
Microsoft Flow is designed for people considered “citizen developers”, people without technical backgrounds that want to implement applications to improve daily work and automate repetitive tasks in their organisations. What really helps when getting started with Flow is the wide range of different templates to choose from. It’s simple really, choose a template adjust it to your needs and run it. On top of that, Microsoft’s community is quite large so it’s easy to find tutorials and additional learning materials, or even ask experts directly in forums and message boards. All of this makes it easy to create simple workflows based on common triggers.
With more advanced workflow scenarios, knowledge of the proprietary Logic Apps Workflow Definition Language (WDL) might be required. This results in a much steeper learning curve whenever you want to implement more sophisticated business scenarios. This is especially the case when connectors require having a proper JSON file in place.
On the other hand, the entry level product has low infrastructure demands. Microsoft Flow is a cloud-based solution and comes as a part of Office 365 subscription, with a limited number of workflow instances that can be initiated.
Microsoft Flow is a great tool to implement trigger-based workflows to automate tasks or chains of simple tasks. If you have a look at the list of most commonly used templates, you’ll find the following examples:
- – Send myself a reminder in 10 minutes
- – Get today’s weather
- – Get updates from the Flow blog
- – Send a customised e-mail when a new SharePoint list is added
- – Start a new approval for new file to move it to a different folder
This shows that Flow’s usage sweet spot is at the level of quick wins, often provided for individual employees or small groups/departments to help them keep track of daily duties and get through simple approvals. Such scenarios are created quickly and without much specialised knowledge.
You can find the full list of templates here.
What is particularly impressive about Microsoft Flow is the number of connectors it offers. At the time of writing this article, there are over 200 available, though many only in the Premium version. They are mostly used as triggering mechanisms but can also be used for data exchange depending on the scenario.
Flow fills a niche that was rarely explored by other workflow vendors, enabling those employees and departments that typically do not get involved into IT projects to create their own automated solutions without getting IT department involved every time. An often-cited example involves monitoring Twitter interactions to let the marketing/PR department to react accordingly. In this sense, Microsoft Flow to some extent contributes to Shadow IT while eliminating security issues which are typically the biggest concern..
Can Microsoft Flow be used for any type of workflow-based application? At the moment, not really.
Currently Microsoft Flow can’t be used for any type of workflow-based application. Current experience has shown that the more complex a scenario is, the harder it is to implement. If you are thinking of multi-level approval scenarios, spanning across departments, requiring a series of conditions to select approvers and heavy, bi-directional integration (e.g. with ERP system like SAP)), this is not where Flow will shine.
Before implementation, it’s worth analyzing your specific e scenario and business case to evaluate whether Flow will be a good fit or not. The following list should help you decide if it is, as Flow is limited in these ways:
- – Flow supports only sequential workflows (A to B to C…) which means it’s not possible to “go back” in the workflow. Loops can be used as a workaround, but extra work is needed
- – Only 250 actions per workflow can be used. This may seem like a lot, but with many loops you can hit this limit quickly.
- – Workflow instances are stored for only 30 days. Microsoft announced that they are raising this limit to 90 days, but it still may not be enough for a business-critical processes that require an audit trail, compliance, etc.
- – Flow is not suitable for handling long-lasting workflows, as they may timeout without warning.
- – Once workflows are running they cannot be changed
- – Forms cannot be customized. This is a situation where Flow is typically combined with PowerApps which raises costs
- – More advanced business scenarios might not be doable due to lack of built-in functionalities, or may require specialized knowledge (WDL, creation of JSON files, etc.)
- – If you allow many people in your organization to create flows, licensing may be difficult to control
To Go with the ‘Flow’ or Not?
Whether you should use Flow or not depends on your use case. Microsoft Flow is a lightweight, cloud-based tool that allows to quickly implement simple scenarios that frequently require trigger-based interactions with external solutions. It does well in cases where fairly uncomplicated approvals and various notifications are needed.
On the other hand, if there’s a need to implement business processes with a higher degree of complexity and/or compliance, you may want to consider using a different, more suitable solution for the job. One example of such a system is WEBCON BPS , which is often used for “daily bread” processes like invoice approvals, purchase orders, leave requests, onboarding, etc. that especially in larger organizations require comprehensive business logic backing them. At the same time, companies also use it for business critical processes that are industry or even company-specific.
At Dolphin Networks, we scope and deliver many business process management solutions hosted in SharePoint for our clients. Requirements for such solutions can range from the simple everyday processes that every business, small and large will encounter such as employee leave request, invoicing, purchase orders etc, up to full blown business management systems that can be used to run the entire organisation reaching into other data driven applications, pushing mobile notifications and information and extending into business intelligence reporting and dashboards.
To enable us to deliver cost affective and rapidly developed solutions we became a UK partner and reseller of the award winning Business Process Management Suite, Webcon BPS.
Using this incredibly powerful and adaptable SharePoint hosted platform, we have delivered some very affective solutions for our clients. Please contact us for a demo of these solutions.
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