The SharePoint Designer has served countless users in the workflow creation for many years. In the meantime, Microsoft has stopped developing the Designer and is fully relying on the Office 365 component Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow). It is a cloud engine based on logic apps. This means that many companies now have to deal with the question of whether Power Automate is a suitable replacement solution for the SharePoint Designer or what other options are available. A good starting point for this is an in-depth look at Power Automate – what advantages and disadvantages it has, both from a technical and a commercial perspective.
The many templates available are a great help to get started. Power Automate (Flow) is clearly tailored to the target group of ‘Citizen Developers’ i.e. to employees without a technical background who want to improve their everyday work with simple applications and automate repetitive tasks. The many available templates are a great help for getting started. You choose a suitable one, adapt to your individual needs with just a few clicks and get started. Help also comes from the Microsoft community, so that you can easily find tutorials and additional learning materials, or ask questions in forums directly to experts.
However, once more complex workflow scenarios are involved, knowledge of ‘Logic Apps’ proprietary Workflow Definition Language (WDL) may be required. So if more complicated business scenarios are to be implemented, this quickly leads to a rather steep learning curve. This is especially true if connectors assume that suitable JSON files are already in place.
Being an entry-level product it does not put heavy demands on the infrastructure. Power Automate is included in the Office 365 subscription as a cloud solution, although it should be noted here that the number of possible workflow instances is limited.
Power Automate is very well suited for implementing workflows based on triggers. This enables tasks or chains of simple tasks to be automated. If you go to the list of the most frequently used templates in the Power Automate console, you will find many self-explanatory examples:
These examples show that Power Automate is particularly suitable for “quick wins”, with which individual employees or small groups or departments can keep an eye on their daily tasks and handle simple approval processes.
In terms of its objectives, Power Automate (Microsoft Flow) fills a niche that providers of workflow software mostly ignore.
The high number of connectors for connecting to external services such as Facebook, Dropbox or Salesforce is also impressive. There are currently more than 200, many of which are only available in the premium version. They are mainly used as triggers, but depending on the scenario, they can also be used for data exchange.
In terms of its objectives, Power Automate fills a niche that the providers of workflow software usually ignore. Microsoft is primarily targeting employees and departments who want to set up their own automation systems in the workplace without having to go through the IT department every time. A vivid and frequently mentioned example of this is the monitoring of interactions on Twitter, as is typically required in the marketing and PR department. In such scenarios, Power Automate helps to prevent shadow IT and thus helps to avoid security risks.
The more complex a scenario is, the more difficult it is to implement with Power Automate.
Is Power Automate now suitable for any type of workflow application, and what are the limits? As a rule of thumb, according to the current state of development, the more complex a scenario is, the more difficult it is to implement with Power Automate. An example of this would be a multi-stage approval scenario that spans multiple departments and contains a set of conditions to select approvers. If complex, bidirectional integrations into systems such as SAP are also required, then Power Automate is no longer the right choice.
Before implementing a workflow, you should therefore analyze the scenario and the business model in order to make a decision for or against Power Automate. The following list provides an overview of the specific limitations of Power Automate and can help you with your decision:
Whether Power Automate is the right workflow tool depends on the individual application. In any case, it is a lightweight, easy-to-use and friendly cloud-based tool that is ideal to implement simple setting that often call for triggered interaction via external solutions. It also works well in use cases where relatively straightforward approvals and various notifications are required.
However, as soon as business processes with a higher degree of complexity and possibly also compliance requirements have to be implemented, alternative workflow solutions should also be considered. An example of this would be WEBCON BPS, which is often also used for ‘bread and butter processes’ – from invoice approvals, requirements requests, vacation requests to onboarding. This is particularly interesting for larger companies, where extensive business logic has to be supported in the background. However, it is also used for company or industry specific business-critical processes.