By: Craig Yellick, VP Business Solutions
Every organization has business processes that involve multiple people and/or periods of time where nothing is happening. People can use Microsoft Office tools to perform various tasks, but often there isn’t anything conducting the process. Anyone wanting to monitor or influence the process will have to reach out and ask what is going on.
Previous blog posts covered the Microsoft Power Platform in general and Power Apps specifically. In this article, I’m going to focus on Power Automate, the workflow tool anyone can use to streamline business processes and automatically react to additions, changes, and deletions in Office 365-based data and other events. With connectors, this ability to react extends to many of the line-of-business applications in use today. Power Automate is truly a powerful tool.
If any of this sparks interest, Blue Net offers our very well-received Office 365 Business Value Sessions where a trained facilitator helps your organization identify and prioritize potential uses for this technology.
Come with Questions, Leave with Answers!
Building Power Automate solutions feel a lot like working with LEGOs. Pre-built logic and action components click together to form step-by-step actions. Microsoft calls this a “No Code/Low Code” process, meaning many actions don’t require anything more than making selections from dropdowns, checking boxes, or filling in blanks.
For example, a workflow that watches for new email messages to show up and creates an alert in a Teams channel. More sophisticated workflows use Excel-like functions to add filter conditions and other forms of logic. For example, the email workflow could examine subject lines and route alerts to different Teams channels.
Workflows can be chained together to follow the life cycle of a business process. For example, an approval workflow can monitor a SharePoint document library, waiting for changes to a “Status” field. When it changes from “New” to “Needs Review”, the appropriate person (or, Team) can be notified they have something to review and approve.
If rejected, the document author is notified. If approved, the “Status” is changed to “Ready to Publish” and a different set of steps is kicked off. This type of process extends to far more than just documents. Any dataset visible to Power Automate can be monitored in the same way.
Power Automate workflows run in the background. That is, you see the results of actions, but the process itself is not visible to users. Workflows become even more powerful when coupled with a Power App that displays data entry forms and interacts directly with users. Power Apps follow the same No Code/Low Code process where non-technical people can build solutions without a huge learning curve.
Administrators and workflow authors can monitor workflows, looking for errors, stalls, and general history. How often are they used? Who is using them? How long does it take for a process to complete? All of this and more is available in what Microsoft calls the “Center of Excellence.”
This is important because unlike previous tools for “citizen developers” as they’re called, your organization’s administrators are fully in the loop and can manage, maintain, and enhance the solutions created. Contrast this to, for example, Excel spreadsheets with macros and custom functions. Dozens of copies of a spreadsheet with different versions can be floating around a file system. The organization has heavy reliance on the spreadsheet, yet nobody is in true control of it and possibly upper management has no idea it even exists.
Here are some examples of Power Automate workflows Blue Net has created for our customers in Minneapolis and Greater Minnesota:
- A manufacturing company previously used a big messy spreadsheet to track project data along with project tasks. We modernized their solution with a tablet app for project intake and used Power Automate to create Plans in Planner for each new project based on a dynamic and changing project template. Power Automate also monitors each plan and will report back bucket completion data to the Project list so that managers can see project status across the board.
- A property management company has a form on their public website made from Microsoft Forms. When filled out, it submits data to an internal SharePoint list for review and historical purposes. Once submitted Power Automate also creates a new card in Pipedrive (cloud-based CRM tool) with all the data from the Contact Us form.
- Many organizations use a flavor of Blue Net’s Request a Team app. Power Automate is used to route the approvals once a team is requested. Once approved, Power Automate creates the team, assigns the owner, adds the members, and creates any channels that were specified in the request form saving IT lots of time doing all of that manually.
- An organization had a library of over 3,000 files, all of which needed an individual sharing link assigned. We wrote a workflow that looped through all the documents, created a share link, and then wrote that share link back to a database they could provide with an external vendor they were working with on the project.
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