I’ve been playing with Microsoft Flow lately. For the uninitiated it’s similar to tools like IFTTT and Zapier and, being a Microsoft product, has rich integration with Microsoft services (particularly those found within the Office 365 suite). It also can work with popular third party tools like Slack and Trello. Visual tools that take data from one place, massage it and output it into various workflows have long captured my attention. They have the power to transform old processes into new behaviors and patterns, taking advantage of new technologies and hopefully increase efficiency.

My example below is far from an epic transformative experience but it should give you an idea of what Flow can potentially do for you or your business. This is my attempt to learn and develop a simple Flow that takes an email from a VIP and processes it into a Microsoft Planner task.

  • Start at flow.microsoft.com and sign in with your Microsoft account.
  • Click My flows then Create from blank

  • In this case I started with the email connector, using my Office 365 account credentials.

  • After we add our source and define our variables, in this case the sender(s), the next step is to process that data into Microsoft Planner.
  • Click New Step then add an action.
  • Type Planner then select “Planner – Create a Task.”

  • Here I realized I needed to pre-create the Plan I want the task to get inserted into. I went over to tasks.microsoft.com and created a new private task (since this Plan is only for me). I created a couple of “buckets” for the data to go, such as “Response Needed” and “Response Deferred.”

  • After creating the plan I went back to the Flow, saved it and refreshed the page. This was necessary to get the Plan to show up in the drop down menu for the Flow’s action.
  • There is more information to fill out, defining the title of your Task, the Bucket ID, etc. This is fairly self explanatory, simply start typing the name of the Dynamic content and select the result to insert it into the field.

  • While not necessary, I figured it would be good to have a due date to track the items in my bucket. I figured about a day would be a good amount of time to defer the action of replying to VIP.

  • Here I discovered the “ddDays() Expression. I hoped I could use the timestamp of the message then add a day to come up with a due date 24 hours after I got the message. I had to read up on the documentation linked from the Expression and eventually pinned down the syntax (shown above).
  • Finally, I set the Assigned User Id to myself by using the To field from the email.
  • Oddly the “Create a Task” action did not include the ability to populate the Description field of the task, to remedy this I added another step at the end of my Flow.

  • The Task ID field uses a Dynamic content string from the Id field from the Planner task above, neat!
  • I put the Body of the email in the Description, saved it and sent myself a test email.
  • Because I added my email address as a VIP in the first step, sure enough a task was created in Planner with all of the details I wanted!

  • I was a little bummed to see that the Description field included the raw HTML from the message I sent. While I can easily ignore it in this simple a test message, a long, forwarded message could contain a lot of extraneous characters. I searched a bit and found a TechNet article that announced the availability of the “Html to text” action.
  • I added a step before “Create a task” for the Html to text action and input the “Body” Dynamic content from the email.  Then I referenced “The plain text converter” in the last “Update task details” step.

  • After running this Flow I now get nice and clean plain text in my Description field. Spiffy!

There are certainly better pre-made tools to get a to-do type list going from emails. This demonstration is meant to get you thinking about what Flow and similar tools could do for you or your business. Take into consideration this example.

A manufacturing company has a legacy order management system that sends order info out via email to a group of employees responsible for making the order. These employees get the email but don’t have visibility into who took ownership over what order and where orders stand throughout the day, particularly as shifts change.

A Flow could be used to capture the email from a centralized mailbox then turn it into a Planner task, dynamically inserting the content and assigning it to specific workers based on content found within the message. Throughout the day workers can use the app on a mobile device to assign orders and move them through the stages of production (buckets in Planner). Once the order is complete they would put it into a special Planner bucket which gets processed by another Flow that captures the information of who worked on the order and it’s status back to an email that legacy system receives for storage and safe keeping.

Have you used Flow or a similar tool to make your life easier? Let me know!