Business Process Automation is not Dead! (Part 1: Workflows in Office 365)

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MVP

When our corporate environment was largely inside of SharePoint, the options to automate business processes were fairly clear.  For the uber simple approvals or publishing workflows, SharePoint offered its own workflows.  Then you also had options to build workflows in SharePoint Designer or even Visual Studio.  For forms, many organizations opted for InfoPath, SharePoint Designer or custom forms using Visual Studio.  This was all good when all you had to worry about was SharePoint and work in an on-premises environment.  Forward to 2018, where there is a huge push to the cloud and your corporate environment has grown from.

 

For some time now, we’ve been hearing that InfoPath is dead(ish) and SharePoint Designer may not be far behind.  Custom server-side solutions have been deprecated in SharePoint Online.  So, what does it mean to your business process automation?  Are they dead as well?  The short answer is no.  This two-part article provides an overview of options available for creating custom forms and workflows in Office 365.

 

Read Business Process Automation is not Dead! (Part 2: Forms in Office 365)

 

Rather than having workflow solutions that work within a specific application, Microsoft currently offers four different solutions in Office 365 and Azure to meet most workflow needs.  Though related, each workflow solution offers it sown unique advantages.

 

Microsoft Flow

Microsoft Flow is a trigger-driven service that allows you to perform actions and interact with data.  Triggers can be based on events within various applications, such as storing a new file in OneDrive, updating a SharePoint list item, or receiving an email in your Gmail account.  You can create workflows selecting triggers and actions from a gallery and providing some key parameters for each.  To save time, there are a large number of workflow templates for common business scenarios that you can use to start your own workflow and build on.  When you’re done building a workflow, you can share it with other users and even create your own templates.

 

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Besides dealing with data in SharePoint, there are today over 200 connectors available in Microsoft Forms to trigger, act on, and manipulate content from numerous SaaS services.  Furthermore, you can leverage Microsoft Flow Gateways to connect to a number of on-premises services, including SharePoint, SQL Server, Oracle, Informix, File Systems, and DB2.

 

In addition to reading and updating data in various systems, you can use Expressions, which lets you further manipulate and format the content using a large number of string, logical, math, date, and other operations.

 

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There are three pricing models available.  Key differentiators are the volume of workflow executions per month, delay for workflow executions, and access to premium connectors.

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Azure Logic Apps

Azure Logic Apps is an Azure-based service that provides the same great features and functionality of Microsoft Flow but also includes additional integrations with Azure Resource Manager, Azure Portal, PowerShell, xPlat CLI, Visual Studio, as well as some additional connectors.

Logic Apps is billed based on the number of actions, standard connectors, and enterprise connectors used within a workflow.  Every time a Logic App definition runs the triggers, action and connector executions are metered.

 

Azure Functions

Azure Functions is an event-driven, compute on-demand service offered on the Azure platform that is intended to run small pieces of code, or "functions," in the cloud without worrying about the underlying infrastructure it’s running on.  Functions are triggered by events or run on scheduled batches in Azure or 3rd party cloud or on-premises systems.

 

You can implement Functions using a variety of programming languages, such as JavaScript, C#, Python, or PHP or scripts such as BASH, Batch, or PowerShell.  Like other integrated development environments, Azure Functions let you upload and trigger pre-compiled executables and supports seamless local development and Continuous Integration using services like Visual Studio Team Services, GitHub and BitBucket.  You can even monitor and troubleshoot Azure Functions with logging capabilities included in the Azure Functions experience.

 

Like Flow and Logic Apps, you can leverage a wide range of triggers and connectors to react to events in Azure services.  As well, the data processed by Azure Functions can persist into Azure data services such as Azure storage, Azure SQL DB and Document DB for later retrieval.

To use Azure Functions, you need to have an Azure subscription.  There are two pricing models available for Azure Functions:

 

  • Consumption Plan
    • Billed on per-second based on execution time and resource consumption (storage, networking)
    • When you sign-up for a Consumption Plan, Includes a monthly free grant of 1 million requests and 400,000 GB-s of resource consumption per month
  • App Service Plan
    • With App Service Plans, you subscribe to a specific tier based on your usage, which provided you with predefined CPU, RAM, and storage resources

Azure Web Jobs

Azure Web Jobs let you execute background processes that are either trigger-based or continuously running.  Web Jobs can have a short or long execution time and are hosted within an Azure App Service Plan either stand-alone or along side a Web App (or API App, or Mobile App).

Web Jobs are deployed as solutions to your host, where they run as any command-line executable or script (.ps1, bash, executable, etc).

 

The main different with Azure Functions and Web Jobs is that Azure Functions run in a “serverless” environment.  This means that you don’t need to worry about setting up host and can focus only on the work your functions will be performing.

 

Web Jobs require you to have an App Service Plan in Azure.  To save on cost, you can share the resources of an App Service Plan between a Web App and Web Job if you wish in order to help save on hosting cost.

 

Although it may seem that your favourite workflow solutions have been taken away from you, don’t worry.  As you can see, you have several new options available to you, which surpass in functionality and flexibility what was available to you previously in SharePoint only.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll be discussing the Form alternatives available in Office 365.

 

4 Replies
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Greaat, great stuff!!! I think this article could fit better in some of the Community Blogs here in the Tech Community
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@Haniel Croitoru wrote:

 

 

Although it may seem that your favourite workflow solutions have been taken away from you, don’t worry.  As you can see, you have several new options available to you, which surpass in functionality and flexibility what was available to you previously in SharePoint only.

In Part 2 of this post, I’ll be discussing the Form alternatives available in Office 365.

 


Great post, very much looking for your part 2!

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Hi @Juan Carlos González Martín,

 

Let me know where to post it.  Happy to move it to another location.

 

Regards,

-Haniel