Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Microsoft Flow first impressios

It's been an interesting week of follow-ups after last week's "The Future of SharePoint" event held at San Francisco. The world is excited about the many new (really new) functionalities and tools that were presented. Today I tested one of them - Microsoft Flow, which is still in Preview and is available to Office 365 FR tenants (or select FR people only).

Flow is similar in concept to IFTTT ('If This Then That'), but aimed at organizations rather than the individual, which means you can't get to it if you don't have a work or school account (Office 365).

Similar to Planner, the tool is not yet integrated into SharePoint, but feels like standing a little bit aside from it with its own domain: https://flow.microsoft.com.
It does, however suggest future tighter integration with Office 365 and SharePoint Online, as today I saw the Flow tile in the App launcher.

Going to the Flow website, very similar to Power BI and Planner, you need to Sign Up.

Once signed in, you can either browse the available Templates ("recipies ready to cook") which will allow you to connect about 35 services or you can start a new flow from scratch. In my example, I'd like to be emailed every time someone creates a new project in Project Online (which is the cloud brother of the newly released Project Server 2016.

Here you'd need to provide the URL for your PWA site collection, then you have just two basic options - "Add a condition" or "Add an Action" - just like the old school workflows for WSS 3.0.
That's understandable as Flow is designed to be simple in its core. So it's definitely not a full-blown Business Process Automation solution (like Nintex, for example) and the flows here are per user, so no centralized store and management of those.

When you choose "Add an action", you see the available hardcoded actions, sorted by the service they're related to. Send Email is under Office 365 Outlook. You'd need to sign in.

You can then configure the recipients, subject and body of the email - the basics. There are some predefined lookups to the current item that you can insert like Project Name, type, etc. That's cool, you just click on them and add them where appropriate.

Then all you need is a name for this new simple flow, you click Create Flow and Done.

On the next Project that gets created in Project Online, I get this:

Looks simple and clean to me. What are your thoughts? Have you signed up for Flow and tested it yet?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Big changes coming to SharePoint Online!

After the new Microsft Mechanics episode with Adam Harmetz was published last night, I am completely stumped at what Microsoft are bringing forward!

Straight to the point:

- A mobile app for SharePoint is finally on the way (iOS, Android & Windows)! 

That's a bit overdue, but great news. Lots of users preferred OneDrive these days due to the great mobile experiences.

- Microsoft Flow - a brand new product, that allows users to build logic around documents and items in a super friendly way. 

That brings a couple of question - what would happen to the existing SharePoint Designer workflows? With the decision taken earlier to not introduce a new version of SharePoint Designer and considering the almost no changes that happened to it and the workflows since 2010 - I think those will be killed. The question is more likely until when they'll be supported?

How would Flow compete to veteran 3rd parties like Nintex and K2? Would it be the free quick go-to solution if you're after something simple or would it try to compete with them?

- Power Apps - a tool that will allow users to create simple, yet powerful mobile apps that can be run on mobile devices and work with SharePoint items.

That's really nice. Something similar to what Nintex were already offering as part of their Nintex Forms product.

- Easier, user-friendly site creation process - click and have a new site in a few seconds.

Only 2 templates availabe - team site / publishing site. We were advised that site templates are not good a while ago... here's the reason why. I've always avoided them as a best practice, but a lot of people use them, especially in large organizations.

- Easier page creation and editing - each new page will automatically be responsive to look great on any device.

Cool, but again - what would happen to the current pages? 

- Each newly created SharePoint site will also create an Office 365 Group with an e-mail address so that conversations can be started around files easily.

Does that mean that the existing sites will also have groups created? I doubt it considering the number of sites organizations may already have. So this will bring some inconsistencies between "old" and "new" team sites. We're about to find out.

- Users will be able to add links to anything in Document Libraries, not just files that are stored in the library.

Simple, yet useful. Doclibs were kind of limiting as of today.

- Users will be able to pin files that must be highlighted and they'll appear on top of the library.

Kind of like what Facebook brought as Featured Photos.

- The Sites tile in the App Launcher will be renamed to SharePoint, so no confusion on what's SharePoint anymore.

I love that :) No more questions like "How do I get to SharePoint in Office 365"?

And last, but not least.... what would happen to all the branding that's already in place? Looking at the new beautiful and responsive UI I don't think there's any way to automatically adapt the custom branding. More likely there will be "old" and "new" experiences going on simultaneously until the IT Pros and developers can adapt their Intranets and users to the new one. What are your thoughts?