Cloud

Microsoft releases workflow automation tool Flow, and PowerApps custom app platform

Microsoft recently released an automation tool called Flow that could be a competitor to IFTTT, and a new platform for businesses to build internal apps.

Image: James Martin/CNET

On Friday, Microsoft released Flow, a new SaaS offering for automating workflows and the public preview of PowerApps, a service that helps enterprise customers build custom business applications.

The cloud has afforded new levels of interconnectedness among business processes and enterprise apps, and Microsoft is hoping to take advantage of this with Flow. Flow is available today in preview, and it allows users to connect their accounts for specific applications and automate simple tasks like labeling and email or adding new data to a spreadsheet.

SEE: Software automation policy guidelines (Tech Pro Research)

In its blog post announcing the two new products, Microsoft gave a few examples of how users could take advantage of Flow:

  • Using Flow to send and SMS notification only for emails from a specific client, or organization
  • Automatically import lead information from emails into our CRM system.
  • Receive an alert when a large file is uploaded to OneDrive or Dropbox accounts, and automatically send a backup copy to SharePoint Online or a similar product.

If all of this sounds familiar, that's because there are quite a few products that do the exact same thing. The most notable of these is IFTTT (if this then that), an application that acts as the "connective tissue" for cloud apps and IoT.

IFTTT initially got traction as a smart home platform, but has quickly grown to be one of the go-to apps for automation in the workplace as well. The company has received funding from major firms such as Andreessen Horowitz, NEA, and Greylock Partners; and it has partnered with companies such as Google and ADT, among others. It's clear that IFTTT is Microsoft's biggest competition for Flow.

PowerApps is an app-building platform that hooks up to cloud services and data sources in your organization and allows employees to build custom apps for specific needs without writing any code. Users can then forgo an app store and directly publish apps to coworkers across multiple platforms. PowerApps also integrates with Flow so the apps you build can be connected for automation purposes.

PowerApps, originally codenamed Project Kratos, is available in public preview starting now. Users can build apps such as cost estimators or e-forms quickly and easily.

SEE: Microsoft touts free stuff to lure server-leaning IT pros to its cloud (TechRepublic)

Microsoft PowerApps runs on Microsoft's Azure cloud platform and takes advantage of a host of Azure services. The goal of both new products is drive developers to Azure and bolster Microsoft's growing cloud business.

Additionally, both Flow and PowerApps help lower the barrier to custom solutions, painting Microsoft as more of an innovator in the enterprise.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Microsoft launched two new products: a workflow automation tool called Flow that is a competitor to IFTTT, and a public previews of a custom business apps platform known as PowerApps.
  2. PowerApps can work with Flow, so the apps a business builds can be automated as well.
  3. Both products could help grow Microsoft's cloud business and strengthen the new Microsoft's identity as an innovator.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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