In new update, Microsoft Flow gets more streamlined approvals

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Microsoft Corp. today updated its Flow task automation tool with new capabilities that among other things speed up the approval process.

Microsoft launched Flow in November as a competing platform to the popular workflow automation service IFTTT, which stands for “If This Then That.” IFTTT is a web service that uses configurable templates, called “recipes,” to trigger a series of interactions between other web and Software as a Service 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.

Flow does much the same, and perhaps the biggest difference between the two tools is that IFTTT can be used by anyone, while Flow is only available to Microsoft’s business customers. With the new update, Flow users now have the ability to create an approval process in seconds, said 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,” Siciliano wrote in a blog post. “These approvals now are securely authenticated using Azure Active Directory, and support full customization with the Microsoft Flow designer.”

Another interesting update is the addition of a mobile-friendly web approvals interface. This offers users a consolidated view of pending approvals, and a history of previous approvals. The interface integrates with Outlook, which means tasks can be approved without needing to leave your email inbox, Siciliano said.

Flow also gains a number of new capabilities around collaboration. These include shareable Flow buttons that work across both Android and iOS versions, as well as the Microsoft Dynamics 365 portal. The idea is to get users to share more of their time-saving automated workflows. On mobile platforms, these Flow buttons can pop up on the lock screen and prompt users for more information.

The company has also introduced something it calls Flow-compatible hardware buttons. They’re somewhat reminiscent of Amazon.com Inc.’s Dash buttons, which allow consumers to restock their supplies at the push of a button in their pantry, for example.

However, Microsoft is aiming at the Internet of Things with this new update. It’s partnered with The Button Corporation and Shortcut Labs, so that businesses can install web-connected Bttns from Button Corp. in conference rooms and other locations. This should help employees to gain help when problems crop up, without needing to create a ticket or make a phone call, Microsoft said.

Finally, Microsoft said Flow now offers more than 115 application programming interfaces for developers to integrate their own products with the tool.

Flow supports numerous leading SaaS applications including Microsoft’s SharePoint, OneDrive for Business and Dynamics 365, as well as third-party offerings such as Dropbox, Gmail and Salesforce.

Image: Jean-Lø Phøtø/Flickr.com