I recently had the privilege to co-present a session on Microsoft Flow & PowerApps at the Microsoft Beyond US Roadshow in Hartford. I am a huge fan of Microsoft Flow and have done several sessions on showing how you can orchestrate data across Dropbox, OneDrive, SharePoint & Salesforce with clicks & not code. One of the attendees in my session asked a very common question that I thought would make a good short blog post: “Is Flow the replacement for SharePoint Workflows?”.
Over the past few years I have built dozens of business applications leveraging the SharePoint platform to route requests through approval processes, provided metrics for turnaround time on requests, and automated non-value added steps. These solutions undoubtedly would leverage the SharePoint workflow engine for sending e-mails, assigning tasks, etc. Since Microsoft introduced the Workflow Manager in SharePoint 2013, there has not been any additional enhancements to their workflow engine. Compounded with the fact that SharePoint 2016 did not include an updated version of SharePoint 2016 it would make sense to assume that Flow is the replacement for SharePoint Workflows.
However, I would argue that Microsoft Flow is really positioned as the next generation of business process management applications vs an outright replacement to SharePoint Workflows. From a feature parity perspective not all of the SharePoint Workflow actions are available in Flow (yet they seem to be added all the time). At the time of this blog there aren’t the basic string manipulation actions, or copy items (also not available in 2013 but are in 2010), content approval/publishing, check-in/check-out, and wait for field changes in list items. There is also the caveat that in order to access on-premises data that you would need to setup a Gateway in order to make it accessible to Microsoft’s cloud.
Microsoft Flow provides much more capability than SharePoint does which might initially frighten some Enterprise customers. While there is a lot of value in being able to orchestrate data across both line of business & public clouds there definitely needs to be some up front planning to ensure that you do not jeopardize the integrity of your company’s data. For example it is absolutely possible to develop a Flow to copy files from your OneDrive for Business to your personal DropBox.
Finally, from a licensing perspective Microsoft Flow is a pay by the drink kind of service (technically pay by the Flow run). There’s a bit of math but essentially you are allocated an allotment of Flow runs per user in your Office 365 tenant based on your plan. Be sure to check out Microsoft’s Flow Pricing page for up to the minute guidance. Whereas with SharePoint Workflows it’s essentially as many workflow runs as what your infrastructure can support.
So getting back to the original question – is Microsoft Flow the direct replacement for SharePoint Workflows? In my opinion – No. Microsoft Flow is the evolution of business process management allowing you to build elegant solutions which have the ability to orchestrate data across various line of business applications leveraging “clicks” and not code. Combined with PowerApps as your mobile/responsive front-end the barrier to creating enterprise applications has absolutely been lowered to where you no longer need a team of developers to create basic applications.
Hope this helps & happy Flow-ing.