For many years, organizations have been relying on several IT-systems to support their ways of working. HR, Sales, PMO, Support – they all use large IT-systems to plan, execute and evaluate their day-to-day work, with tailored solutions that fit their processes. But in most cases, different departments don’t always keep to themselves. They are just smaller cogs in a larger machine that move a project from one part of the organization to another. And here lies the core of the issue - integrations between different departments and their IT-systems. For the sake of this blog post, we will use Dynamics 365 and Project Online as example systems.
The process is broadly defined like so: Sales will typically use a CRM system to handle all customer relations from the very first cold-call to final contract negotiations. But the team that delivers the solution to the customer are also using their own system of choice for planning and executing the project. Each system provides the tools and power they need to perform their jobs most efficiently. So now what?
Historically, integrations between large IT-systems is a time-and-budget-consuming activity, where the key information had to be transferred between different organizational departments. These types of solutions are often tailor-made for the exact use-case and are not easy to be modified if for instance a third system had to be included as well. Adding to this is the high rate of maintenance that these solutions require. So, there must be a better solution – and luckily there is!
With the introduction of Microsoft Flow, which is included for free in all Office365 subscriptions, it is now possible for almost anyone with little to no technical experience, to do these large-scale integrations in a matter of minutes (but more on that later).
Why is that important
Utilizing Microsoft Flow to solve the problem with performing integrations, or any other automated process for that matter has several benefits. The main ones are:
There are many more arguments as to why you should use Flow to integrate, automate and optimize your current systems and processes, and to give you a concrete example on how easily that can be achieved, I will now proceed with demonstrating how simple it is to do an integration between Dynamics 365 and Project Online.
How to fix it
Getting started with Flow is easy. It is included in all Office365 subscriptions with 4000 free Flow runs per month, which is more than enough for normal users. Simply login and select from one of the pre-made templates provided by Microsoft and other users.
You can also start from scratch and build your own flow from the bottom up. To do so, you’ll have to select a trigger to initiate the flow. Think of the trigger as the event that gets everything started, like the arrival of an email. The overall structure is then built from actions and conditions. Actions are things you can do in the connected applications, like sending an email or creating a Sharepoint List Item. Conditions are simple “Yes-No” logic steps, where the Flow will do different things depending on the input into the condition. For example, I would like my Flow to archive all attachments in an email in my OneDrive for the Business folder if the email is set to High Importance. So, every time the Flow runs, it will check to see if the email is set to high importance; if yes it will archive the attachments; if no it will do nothing else. Understanding these three components is key for getting started successfully with building your first flow.
Now let’s dive into the use case outlined at the beginning of this post, where we’ll try to support an integration between Dynamics 365 and Project Online using only Microsoft Flow.
To briefly summarize the scenario, we want to hand over a new customer project opportunity from the sales department to the project delivery team. The sales department is using the opportunity management part of Dynamics 365, where they’ve set up a solution that lets them track all information related to the customer, and to mature the opportunity into an actual project. To track the maturity of this, they’re using a scale of 0-100% of probability, where 100% is a finished signed contract.
Translating this into what we need to do in Flow, requires that we trigger the flow every time a person in the sales department updates an opportunity.
Next, we need to check the maturity of the opportunity, because we are not interested in flooding our project management tool, Project Online, with opportunities that are not yet ready to be executed. Luckily, the sales department is tracking this with the probability value on each opportunity. To give the delivery team a good head start with the incoming projects, we’ll use opportunities with a probability equal to or greater than 80%.
If the condition is not valid, i.e. the probability is less than 80, we do nothing. But if the condition is true, we want to go ahead and create a project in Project Online. Before we do so, we can map values from Dynamics 365 to Project Online. For instance, I want to give my project a name, description and start date. Again, all these values have already been provided by the sales department in Dynamics 365, so all we must do is select them.
And that’s it. In 3 simple steps, you have now created an automatic integration between two large and complex systems, with no coding or other technical skills required.
Seeing how simple it is to set up a Flow, I strongly encourage all readers of this post to get started – even simple Flows can make a huge difference, and I promise that you’ll be hooked!
Utilizing Microsoft Flow also fits great into moving your systems into the cloud. All functionalities in Flow are made with the cloud in mind, and new features are being added regularly. If you’re not quite ready to make the big move into the cloud, Flow can also be used with on-premise solutions, but that does require a bit more technical skills to get up and running.
On a closing note, I have some reflections in terms of what can be achieved with Flow, and with Flow and Project Online in particular. Currently, the triggers and actions in Project Online available in Flow are limited to around 10. This does have an impact on what can be achieved with Project Online, but there is a huge potential with this, as you will be able to e.g. execute workflows much more efficiently compared to today, and overall you will be able to reap the benefits that Flow provides in your preferred project management tool.
If you’re interested in learning more about what you can do with Flow, Project Online and Dynamics 365 feel free to contact me or my colleagues or go visit our website to learn more about what Projectum has to offer.
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