Microsoft's IFTTT competitor goes live for suits & sysadmins alike

Workflow and automation tool needs no coding skills, can run from your smartmobe

Programming-lite service ifttt.com has won plenty of fans with its ability to link services and devices, then automate things with “if this, then that” statements.

And now Microsoft's having a waft at a similar service with the formal debut of a new service dubbed “Flow”. If you've used Outlook's rules feature, which filters emails according to user-defined parameters and acts upon those emails accordingly, you will find it easy to understand Flow.

Flow goes rather further than Outloook rules, however, by adding the ability to monitor third-party services exchange data among them. Redmond's example for the service's utility asks you to consider yourself as a business operator that sets up a Flow to detect Twitter mentions of your company. When someone Tweets about you, Flow would follow their account, send a pleasant canned response, add the user's details to a spreadsheet and ask you to approve adding that document's contents to your preferred SaaS CRM. Once your Flow has been defined, it just sits there, bot and/or daemon style, and does its thing.

Just as IFTTT has done, Microsoft's cooked up a template gallery to do things including turning an RSS feed into Yammer messages, move files between OneDrive and Dropbox, or move data from a Google sheet into Dynamics CRM. Flow also has hooks into Bit.ly, Campfire, Cognitive Services Text Analytics, Instapaper and Pinterest, among other services, and will add more integrations over time.

Redmond recognises the potential for data to fly out of the building, so has built a sysadmin console in which to create and enforce data loss prevention policies.

Of course it's all mobile-enabled, with an app allowing you to create Flows whenever you feel like whipping out a device.

Flow is free for Office 365 or Dynamics 365 customers, or for those willing to do with just 750 “runs” a month. US$5 and $15 plans add more functions and “runs”, beyond those on the free Office and Dynamics plans.

Microsoft's motivation here is giving non-coders a chance to automate workflows, especially when using Microsoft's own business productivity tools. As such it's matching Oracle's recent ardour for business process creation tools that suits can handle all by themselves.

Software vendors are increasingly fond of this sort of stuff: developers will have to learn to go with the Flow, and its imitators. ®

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