Microsoft Power Automate Instead of SharePoint Workflows


Since it will no longer be possible for SharePoint Online clients to use SharePoint 2010 and SharePoint 2013 workflows by November 1, 2020, but luckily an alternative or the unofficial successor is already available to use in-house. Yes, the Microsoft Power Automate, but before looking into the features and uses of Power Automate, let’s have a quick overview of workflows in SharePoint, to get the better understanding of their usage and effectiveness and their association with Power Automate.

Workflows in SharePoint

One of the central functions of SharePoint is the control of typical business processes with a fixed sequence. On the one hand, such workflows control – closely linked to document management – the joint editing of texts, calculations, presentations and much more. On the other hand, workflows are able to coordinate project tasks of various kinds. This not only makes it easier for everyone involved in the project to work on their workflow-defined tasks, it also increases operational efficiency and productivity.

SharePoint maps the sequence of tasks in a workflow and supports coordinated processing through the automated moving and distribution of documents or elements. In this way, processes such as project approvals or document releases can be managed clearly. The individual steps are documented and can be retraced later. In the example of a release process, for example, the author of a document starts the workflow by assigning the relevant tasks to the responsible persons and notifying them by e-mail. This gives them their instructions and access to the file to be shared. The document author can check the status – for example, which participants have already completed their tasks. He is automatically informed of the completion of the work.

Here, too, SharePoint works closely with Microsoft Office. Steps such as starting a workflow or assigning and completing tasks can not only be initiated in SharePoint, but also directly from compatible Office programs – for example, bringing a table into circulation directly from Excel.

Various workflows for typical business processes are already available “ex works” in SharePoint and can be flexibly adapted to the requirements of your company. Out-of-the-box there are, for example, workflows for approving documents or elements, for obtaining feedback or to collect required digital signatures. In addition, it often makes sense to have custom workflows created by software developers to precisely meet the individual needs of the organization or company.

What is Power Automate?

Microsoft Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow) is just like the SharePoint 2010 workflows a product for automating processes. A flow (= workflow) in Power Automate always starts with a trigger. Triggers can be very many different things, such as a change in a SharePoint list, a tweet with a certain keyword, etc. Then the incoming data can be used for actions. For more complex requirements there are also various logical modules, such as conditions and loops.

What do we use Power Automate for?

At Code Creators Inc., we use Power Automate, among other things, to manage our vehicle fleet. Here, after applying for a company car, an email is automatically sent with the more precise details and information. The data subjects receive information about this and can check the data for accuracy.

For this purpose, a flow was created which always starts when an element in a SharePoint list or from a Power App is created or edited. The configuration in the application is then used to check whether a confirmation email should be sent for this data record. If this is the case, it is then assembled from the data of the SharePoint element and sent.

We want to give this simple example here, because SharePoint Workflow users should be familiar with such requirements. This is relatively easy to do in Power Automate. But here, too, we encountered a few problems that had to be solved first. E.g. we enable series production of vehicles. Here we have learned some tricks to achieve better performance.

Migrating from Classic Workflows To Power Automate Flows

The migration from the classic workflows to Power Automate Flows means first of all that the workflows have to be recreated. This turned out to be difficult in the past, as functionalities were missing here and there. Most of the functions were submitted later. However, a few restrictions remain. For example, a Power Automate Flow can only run for a maximum of 30 days. But there are workarounds here too. Microsoft has published an article for these problems that specifically deals with the differences and alternatives.

If you think you are safe now, because only SharePoint 2013 workflows are used in SharePoint Online:

Attention, SharePoint 2013 workflows have also been marked as outdated. For new clients, these will be deactivated by default from November 2020 and can only be reactivated using a PowerShell script. The signs are clear here too. Better to use Microsoft Power Automate now than later and switch over!

For SharePoint Server customers nothing will change at first. In the current version of SharePoint Server 2019, 2010 and 2013 workflows can still be used. What it looks like after that is still in the stars.