When the name “Microsoft Flow” gets brought up in a conversation, the typical response I hear is “Oh, the automated workflow tool released by Microsoft! It looks great, but I’ll wait a couple of years to see how it matures before using it for business process automation.”
Quite often, I see that that because Microsoft Flow is still fairly new by enterprise software standards, many customers will shy away from it because they believe it’s too raw to be used as a production level solution. Although it is true that Flow is a new player in the workflow automation space, nevertheless it can deliver significant value to anyone looking to get started with business process automation. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of the tool.
One of the biggest advantages of Flow is that it is incredibly easy to use. Flow was designed for non-developers, so even someone without technical background can use it to create workflows. The simplicity of the tool and the small learning curve are a definite advantage over other process automation applications.
Microsoft Flow has hundreds of connectors that can be used to connect to data from many different sources right out of the box. Large collection of easy to use, pre-built connectors makes integrations with third party applications, such as Slack or Dropbox, a breeze.
Another benefit of Flow is the ability to create custom connectors with the same straightforward no-code approach. All that’s required is understanding what the API of the application that you want to integrate with Microsoft Flow looks like. In other words, the connector just needs to tell Flow what the API is and which requests and responses they support. The process for creating a custom connector is as simple as creating workflow in Flow.
Before implementing Flow, it’s worthwhile to consider the limitations of the tool.
One of the main weaknesses of Flow is its latency. Very complex workflows used when designing a webpage or program can significantly affect performance especially if conditions and actions are left open.
Another issue with latency is the time it takes for the flow to trigger. Depending on the subscription plan, it could take up to 15 minutes for a single flow to complete. Microsoft Flow is an attractive tool because it is bundled with Microsoft Office 365. The most basic version of Flow comes without an added cost, making it easy to get started. However, many users don’t realize that there is a difference in flow frequency times between the available plans. The free Flow plan has a maximum flow frequency of 15 minutes while the next tier has a maximum flow frequency of only 5 minutes!
In Flow, it isn’t possible to set/change permissions on a SharePoint item without the usage of a web service or a third-party connector. Currently, there is no out of the box Microsoft solution available which is a serious limitation of the product.
Flows are creator based. Since the creator of the flow is the one doing the action, the actions will be attributed to them. This might cause issues depending on what is the goal of the flow. To illustrate this, let’s consider setting up a flow to send an email from an alias. Since the workflow is based on the creator of the flow, then a person who has access to that email alias MUST be the one to create the flow.
As you can see, despite its limitations, Flow is still a strong business process automation tool that might serve well in your organization. When deciding if Flow is the right solution for you, it is worthwhile to consider the complexity of workflows you are hoping to build. For example, fairly simple workflows that can utilize basic out of the box connectors in Flow, are an excellent candidate for the Microsoft tool. However, processes that apply complex workflow logic might require more powerful tools better suited for complex tasks. For more information on workflow tools and getting started with business process automation, be sure to check out our resources.