Microsoft Streamlines Approval Processes With Flow

Work colleagues will spend less time waiting for approvals (or denials) with a new update to the company's workflow automation solution.


Microsoft made a splash last year when it launched Flow, the company's business-focused answer to IFTTT. Today, the software giant launched an update that speeds up approval processes.

Like IFTTT, short for "If This Then That," Microsoft Flow enables users to chain together various software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications and web services to accomplish complex tasks and eliminate manual steps, like copying and pasting information from one application to another. In the first-quarter 2017 update for Flow, the company is ushering in the ability to create an approval process in mere seconds, according to Stephen Siciliano, principal group program manager of Microsoft Flow.

"Rich templates and a streamlined design experience make it possible for any user to quickly configure an approval process," wrote Siciliano in an April 17 blog post. "These approvals now are securely authenticated using Azure Active Directory, and support full customization with the Microsoft Flow designer."

As part of the update, the company has added a mobile-friendly web approvals interface that provides a consolidated view of pending approvals, along with a history of past approvals. It integrates with Outlook, allowing users to approve tasks directly without leaving their inboxes, said Siciliano.

The Q1 update also includes a number of collaboration-enhancing and team-focused features like shareable Flow buttons. The buttons work across the Flow mobile apps for iOS and Android, as well as the web-based Microsoft Dynamics 365 portal, encouraging users to share their time-saving automated workflows, dubbed "flows" by Microsoft.

On the mobile front, new flow buttons can now appear on a smartphone's lock screen and prompt users for more information, if required. Flow has also gained some new internet of things (IoT) functionality reminiscent of Amazon Dash.

Whereas Amazon customers can place Dash buttons in their pantries and laundry rooms to quickly restock their supplies with a quick press of a button, Microsoft envisions other, more business-oriented use cases.

Microsoft has partnered with The Button Corporation and Shortcut Labs to create Flow-compatible hardware buttons. For example, businesses can deploy internet-connected Bttns from Button Corporation in their conference rooms and other locations and link them to an IT support workflow, enabling workers to quickly get help when problems arise without placing a phone call or registering a ticket with a support platform.

Also new are Team Flows, allowing multiple users to share the responsibility of their flows. Not only can teams update, delete and manage their flows, Team Flow enables flows to keep running well after employees leave their jobs, preventing disruptions in well-established workflows.

The company is also working to grow the Flow partner ecosystem. The latest version of the platform now offers more than 115 application programming interfaces (APIs) that allow developers to integrate Flow into their own offerings.

Apart from Microsoft products like SharePoint, OneDrive for Business and Dynamics 365, Flow boasts support for leading SaaS applications and cloud services, including Dropbox, Salesforce and Gmail, among several others.

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez

Pedro Hernandez is a contributor to eWEEK and the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Previously, he served as a managing editor for the network of...