Microsoft Flow Takes On IFTTT at Work

By Pedro Hernandez  |  Posted 2016-04-29 Print this article Print
Microsoft Flow

The software giant gets serious about workflow automation with the launch of its IFTTT-like Flow service and a preview of the company's custom line-of-business app builder, PowerApps.

IFTTT is getting some competition from Microsoft. The Redmond, Wash., software giant on April 29 announced Microsoft Flow, a workflow automation service aimed at business users.

IFTTT, short for "If This Then That," is a popular Web service that uses configurable templates, or "recipes," to trigger a series of interactions between other Web and software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications for users, typically with a single action, or in an automated fashion. For example, IFTTT recipes can be used to automatically upload a new Dropbox file to Google Drive or tweet an Instagram picture as a native Twitter image rather than a link back to Instagram.

On April 29, Microsoft launched a similar product called Flow. Unlike IFTTT, which welcomes all comers, Flow is restricted to the company's business customers and requires a work or school email address to sign up for the service.

"Microsoft Flow makes it easy to mash-up two or more different services," said Stephen Siciliano, principal group program manager for Microsoft Flow, in an April 29 announcement. "Today, Microsoft Flow is publicly available as a preview, at no cost. We have connections to 35+ different services, including both Microsoft services like OneDrive and SharePoint, and public software services like Slack, Twitter and, with more being added every week."

Early adopters can pick from dozens of productivity-enhancing templates in the Flow gallery. Selections include "flows" that issue Slack notifications when new files are uploaded to Dropbox or automatically copy Salesforce leads to CRM, among several others.

In the near future, Microsoft plans to roll out more enterprise-friendly features, added Siciliano. The company is working on enabling connections to on-premises data sources and adding intra-organizational content-sharing capabilities, he added.

Joining Flow is the preview release of PowerApps, a cloud-based service that enables organizations to build custom line-of-business applications, forms and workflows without code. Like Flow, PowerApps is restricted to Microsoft's business and education users.

The PowerApps Studio client, available at the Windows Store, enables users to create apps from a variety of data sources including Salesforce or Dynamics CRM; customize prebuilt templates; or start from scratch. Once finished, apps are saved to the cloud and can be shared with other users within an organization.

Users can access their newly created apps with a Web browser or the PowerApps mobile clients for iOS and Android. Microsoft assures that the PowerApps platform respects data source permissions, ensuring that only authorized users access an app's data.

PowerApps can also be used in conjunction with Flow, revealed Darshan Desai, Microsoft PowerApps group program manager, in a blog post. "Microsoft Flow is fully integrated with PowerApps, which allows you to automate business workflows as part of the app. For example, send an approval email when a button is clicked or create a record in your CRM system," he wrote.

As the PowerApps preview wends its way to general availability, Microsoft is concentrating on improving performance and adding more templates and connectors. Support for an expanded set of SharePoint data types is also in the works, said Desai.


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