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16 November 2018

SharePoint Contracts Management with Reminder Flow

SharePoint iconI continue writing articles with demos about SharePoint and Microsoft Flow, and in a new kalmstrom.com Tip I describe a model for Contracts Management in SharePoint.

Library content type
I recommend that you use a specific Contracts content type for SharePoint document libraries that contain contracts. That way you can make sure that they will contain the desired content and is managed in a consistent way.

A content type is a reusable collection of metadata columns and settings that describe the shared attributes and behaviors for a specific kind of content. By default, SharePoint has many predefined content types, such as Document. All document libraries are built on top of that content type. In the reminder flow I create in the article, I am using the Name property that the Document content type uses to store the name of the file.

You can also create your own custom content types. These build on the predefined content types, and when you create a custom content type for a Contracts document library you should create it from Documents. In the Tips article I show how to create such a content type.

Reminder Flow
Microsoft Flow iconAll contracts have an expiry date, and someone has to keep track of them. If a flow sends an e-mail message to the responsible person one week before a contract expires, the chances increase that it will not be forgotten.

The flow I build sends such a message. It has a Schedule trigger and is rather straight-forward, except for the crucial point: the formula that decides when the e-mail should be sent.

That formula is a bit complicated, but you can find it in the article's step-by-step instruction. I actually made a mistake when I recorded the demo. I let it stay, because trouble-shooting is an important part when you learn how to automate SharePoint processes, and here I had a chance to demonstrate it.


I hope the Flow demo above will be useful. It builds on the content type I show in the Tips article, but you can of course also use the flow for a standard document library. Just make sure that it has columns for Responsible person and Expiry date.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

13 November 2018

Let a Flow Set "Assigned To" in Tickets

Microsoft Flow iconWhen people report a problem, ask a question or order something via a SharePoint form, they probably don't know who will take care of their ticket. The responsible person must be set by someone else – or you can let a flow set a default responsible depending on issue category. That is what I show in the latest kalmstrom.com Tips article.

SharePoint lists
The flow uses two SharePoint lists, one for the default assignee settings and one for the tickets. The 'Assigned To' column in the tickets list should have a description that says that its value is set by a flow, and it should not allow multiple choices. At present, a flow cannot handle that.
SharePoint icon
Both lists have a column called "Ticket Category" with the same choice options. I have created it as a site column to be able to re-use it and have its values automatically indexed by the SharePoint search engine.

Please visit the Tips article about this "Set Assigned" flow if you want to see how I create those two lists.

SharePoint flow
The flow runs when a new item has been created in the reports list. It reads the value of the "Ticket Category" column in the new item and picks the default assignee for that value from the settings list.

The default assignee for a category should of course be the person who most often takes care of that kind of issues or orders, but he/she can also easily assign the ticket to another person. The flow just means that the assigning does not have to be done each time.

If a person needs to be replaced as default assignee, just edit the settings list and set a new default assignee. The flow will not be affected. It will continue to run as before and just show the new person as responsible in the tickets.


This demo is yet another one that I have created for my upcoming book SharePoint Flows from Scratch, and there will be more of them. Keep a lookout!

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

07 November 2018

Diwali Celebration in New Indore Office

The Indian members of the kalmstrom.com team work hard together, but we also celebrate together! Right now, it is the Diwali holiday, and this Diwali was special for all of us as it was celebrated at our new office in India.

New kalmstrom.com office in India
The kalmstrom.com business is growing, and to keep up the good progress we need a bigger workplace. In 2018 several new people have joined the Indian team, and we are planning to hire more SharePoint Developers and QA testers. Therefore, the Indian staff has shifted to a bigger office in Indore.
Puja ceremony

Inauguration
Recently the team gathered in the new office for an inauguration ceremony. Puja, an Indian prayer ritual, was conducted to celebrate this auspicious event.

 In the picture above Jayant Rimza, kalmstrom.com Lead Developer and Director of the Indore office, is leading the prayer along with his wife Sushma. After the Puja, the whole team went out for a celebration lunch. (The little boy in the middle belongs to the next generation: Jayant's and Sushma's son Atiksh.)
The kalmstrom.com team in Indore

Spacious office
The new office is spacious and very well furnished, and each employee has a separate cubical for him/herself. The office is located near Vijaynagar, one of the main and fast developing areas of Indore.

Diwali celebration
The kalmstrom.com team celebrates every festival with utmost energy and cheer. This was our first Diwali in the new office, and that gave us double cause for celebration.

‘Diwali’, or ‘Deepawali’, is one of the biggest Indian festivals. It celebrates the homecoming of Lord Rama and his wife Sita after 14 years of exile and his victory over the demon Ravan. People rejoice the victory of good over evil by decorating their homes, lighting earthen lamps, also called ‘diyas’, burning fire crackers and giving delicious sweets.
Rangoli
We also make ‘Rangoli’, not just for decoration but also as a symbol of good luck. Like every year, the Indore staff made a Rangoli this year as well. The image above shows my colleague Rituka Rimza and me at the Rangoli made by the team members.

Days Off and Support
Every year the kalmstrom.com team gets two days off for Diwali. This year, Peter and Jayant decided to extend the leave to three days, so that team members from outside Indore would get enough time to celebrate the festival with their family and friends.
Pivot Explorer icon                      E-mail Converter for Azure and SharePoint icon
Another reason for the extended leave was that the team worked really hard this year to release some new kalmstrom.com products: Pivot Explorer and E-mail Converter for Azure and SharePoint. The managers thought that we deserved a break!

Even though the team is on leave, our lead developer Jayant and senior developer Jitu will be available to answer support e-mails and online chats. Due to the festive season they might not be able to answer as promptly as they normally do, but they will surely get back to you as soon as they can.

From all of us at kalmstrom.com, we wish you a very Happy & Prosperous Diwali. We hope that the divine festival brightens up your lives and fills it with never ending happiness!

By Dipti Francis
Executive Assistant
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

06 November 2018

SharePoint Automation with Flow or Workflow?

SharePoint iconIn my previous blog post I showed how to create both flows and workflows that achieve the same thing: automatic SharePoint tasks creation. That was an example on how flows and workflows can be used for the same kind of SharePoint automation, even if they are created in different ways.

There are however important differences between flows and workflows, and you have to consider them when deciding which tool to use for each process automation. Here I will discuss some of these differences.

Why automate at all?
Before we go into the two major Microsoft tools for SharePoint automation, I want to point out why you should automate business processes in the first place. I explain that in more detail in the demo below, but the main reasons are:
  • Accuracy – a flow or workflow always works in the same way.
  • Tracking – process documentation is boring to do manually but easy with a flow/workflow.
  • Speed – even if you include the delay before it runs, the flow/workflow is quicker than humans.

Traditional workflow
SharePoint Designer iconDuring the last ten years, workflows have been the traditional way of automating business processes in all kinds of SharePoint editions, both online and on-premises. Microsoft has given us a few built-in workflows, but other SharePoint workflows are created from scratch in a free designer tool, SharePoint Designer.

Workflows cannot easily connect to apps or services outside the SharePoint site where it is running. There are two versions of SharePoint workflows, 2010 and 2013, but there will not be a 2016 update.

New flow
Microsoft Flow iconAt the beginning of 2016, Microsoft introduced a new service for workflow creation: Flow. This is a cloud based service, and a flow can connect to many other online services. Flows are created on a website, and the SharePoint Online modern interface also gives a possibility to create a flow directly from inside the list or library that you want it to manage.

Storage
If you use a flow for a business process, you must be aware that flows are stored in the personal account of the user who created them. Therefore, organizations who want to use Microsoft Flow should use a dedicated account for all flows. Then you can continue using and editing the flow even if a user leaves the organization, and you can also manage potential costs in cases of high volume flows.

In workflows the storage is not a problem, as workflows are stored in SharePoint and not in a user account.

Triggers
Workflows can start automatically when an item is created or changed, but flows have many more available triggers. This is partly depending on the multitude of services that flows can be used with, but also if you look at SharePoint only there are many more triggers than for workflows.

Templates
Microsoft wants Flow to be simple, easy to use automation tool so they offer a multitude of flow templates. Workflows, on the other hand, has no templates at all. Using templates can of course be a good way to start creating flows, but I actually prefer to start with a blank flow. Then I will have a clean flow that does not contain anything but the parameters I add to it.
FlowWorkflow
StorageUser accountSharePoint
ServicesMany cloud basedOnly SharePoint
CreationWebSP Designer
TriggersManyFew
TemplatesYesNo
Works after change of list/column nameNoYes
MS DevelopmentYesNo

Name changes
I also want to mention a less obvious issue with flows: if you change the name of a list or column that is monitored by a flow, you must change the name in the flow also. Workflows don't use the names you give to lists or columns. Instead they use the internal name, a GUID, and therefore workflows are not affected by any name changes.

Both flows and workflows have their benefits, and ideally you should learn both to be able to select the best option for each occasion. Flow is the future, but inside SharePoint the workflows are still very useful. In the kalmstrom.com Tips section you can learn much more about both flows and workflows.

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions

02 November 2018

Automate Tasks for New Employee Equipment

SharePoint iconThis week, I have published two new Tips articles on automatic task creation with flows and with workflows. Each article has two demos, as I describe an easier flow/workflow as well as a more advanced one that gives many benefits in the long run.

Equipment for new staff
When new staff joins an organization, there are certain things that always have to be done. The new employees will for example need some equipment, and the people responsible for arranging the equipment needs to be informed. This is a situation I have chosen to automate in my new articles.

Below I have included the two video demonstrations from the Flow article about automating tasks for new employee equipment, but if you prefer using a workflow, please study the Workflow article about  automatic task creation instead.

Hard-coded or dynamic?
You need some practice before you can create a really good flow or workflow, but it is of course better to automate business processes in a basic way than to not automate them at all. One common issue is how much you should hard-code.

It is often easier to hard-code data than to use dynamic content, and that is what I do with the equipment items in the first demo.


With dynamic content the flow/workflow will be much more flexible and user friendly. In the second demo, the equipment items are entered in a SharePoint settings list, from where the flow/workflow fetches the values as dynamic content.

The benefit of using dynamic content from a settings list, is that data can be changed without affecting the automation. This means that users can change values in the settings list when needed without problems. The flow/workflow will continue to run as before. That is not possible with hard-coded values. If they are changed, the flow or workflow must be modified too.



Flow or workflow?
As I use the same scenario of new staff equipment for both a flow and a workflow, I will soon follow up this blog post with a post about SharePoint automation in general, where I also mention some advantages and drawbacks of these two automation tools. Stay tuned!

By Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer
kalmstrom.com Business Solutions