By Phil Astell of Astec Computing (UK) Ltd

We’ve now published a couple of articles; in the first, we spent some time busting the common myths surrounding cloud technology, and then in the last we used our invented company DreamBeans, to illustrate ways to start working smarter with Office 365. If you didn’t get a chance to read these articles, you can view them online at platinumbusinessmagazine.com.

In this edition, we are going to take a look at a fantastic tool recently introduced into the Microsoft Office 365 suite called Microsoft Flow. This is an incredibly powerful tool used to build automated workflows in your business, stripping out manual processes and effort, to carry out routine, regular and time-consuming tasks. This means that you can save on work hours, improve operational efficiency and effectiveness, and improve your internal and external service. Flow not only creates workflow automation across Microsoft applications but it also connects with a huge array of other apps including your favourites like Twitter, Dropbox, Salesforce, DocuSign, Google Docs, MailChimp and WordPress to name just a few.

To help demonstrate how the technology can bring real value to almost any business, we’re going to look again at DreamBeans - a coffee distribution and sales company and how they used Office 365 to help them work smarter. First, a quick recap on DreamBeans:

DreamBeans profile

Description: Coffee sales and distribution

Locations: Midlands distribution centre, South East sales and admin office

Staff: 50 employees – 15 field based sales

Business challenge focus: Business automation

Sarah, the Sales and Marketing Administrator has been tasked by Steve, the Sales Director, with managing the company’s social media accounts. However, due to workload, she struggles to actively keep on top of and maximise the sales potential arising from Twitter activity.

Using Flow, Sarah is going to use the simple flow chart driven interface to build an automated workflow to respond to, and maximise, the sales potential of tweets. Many templates already exist to help Sarah get going which can be used ‘as is’ or modified as needed. Alternatively, she can start a new flow from scratch. As Sarah is on the move today, she’s going to setup and run the Flow straight from her phone using the Flow app, meaning that there’s no need to use her laptop. Once setup, Sarah can continue to monitor and manage the Flow directly from her phone, making effective use of her time.

The Flow is going to be very simple, yet very powerful. When someone tweets mentioning @dreambeans, Flow will check to see if the account has more than 100 followers. If it does, it will automatically send a reply and follow them in return. It will then add their contact as a lead into their CRM platform, Dynamics 365 as well as emailing the sales team to let them know, which means that they can follow up on the lead promptly. This of course all happens without anyone needing to take any action or spend any time.

Sarah has also been appointed the role of managing the team holiday requests. Knowing that this can be a time-consuming task made up of receiving requests, getting manager approvals, notifying staff members and recording all the details, Sarah decides to use Office 365 to help her.

Sarah sets up a holiday request page in SharePoint (SharePoint is an intranet site and part of the Office 365 suite). In the holiday request page, staff can post the details of their request quickly and simply into a ‘SharePoint list’.

She then creates a Flow which looks for new items being added to the holiday request page and automatically mails the team member’s manager. The email contains all the details of the request, with options within the email to accept or decline the request with a single click. Once the manager has responded, the team member will then receive an email informing them accordingly. Finally, the SharePoint request status is updated in the SharePoint page so that the record is kept fully up to date.

This has saved time for everyone involved; Sarah has spent no time at all in managing the process, the manager has responded to one simple email with a single click, and the team member has had a quick and easy process to request holiday and get fast feedback. Additionally, a detailed record of the key information is held and available to view at any time.

Steve is so impressed with what Sarah has been able to achieve in automating processes, he is now sending regular requests for more Flows to Sarah. Sarah receives a vast amount of emails every day, but it’s really important she’s able to respond quickly to Steve. With her time under pressure, Sarah has created a Flow to check her inbox for emails from Steve, and when one arrives, a text message is sent to her phone. This is an incredibly simple Flow but will make a big impact on Sarah’s working day. The Flow was available straight from a template and so couldn’t have been quicker to setup. Sarah is now able to respond quickly to any requests from Steve without having to constantly check her inbox, particularly useful while out of the office.

Flow offers huge benefits to businesses of all types, but is done with great simplicity and is a standard feature of most Office 365 packages. It can be achieved without any specialist skills, very minimal training, and with video training guides available to view on the Microsoft Flow website to get you started. The processes can be managed from any location and on any device, meaning that you can take advantage of these tools whether you’re a one-person operator out on the road, or a large enterprise with hundreds or thousands of staff. These examples, whilst very effective, are just the beginning of what can be achieved with much more complex and sophisticated Flows.

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