27 December 2016

Anonymous Forms for SharePoint with DropBox and Flow

Office 365 iconIn a new article in the Tips section, I show how to combine Flow and Dropbox to get information into a SharePoint document library from people outside the company without any login at all. In the process I also describe how to create a restricted form in Word and use it as a template for the library.

Business dilemma
Sometimes you need to get information from people outside the organization into a SharePoint library, but you don’t want to create SharePoint accounts for them. Of course, you can receive files by e-mail and upload them to SharePoint yourself, but that is troublesome.

Using a cloud service for document sharing will not burden your mailbox, but it will give you the same trouble, and on top of that it will require a login. How can we get the information into SharePoint without giving people access?

Microsoft Flow iconLet a flow copy files from Dropbox
My solution to the access problem is to use a Dropbox Requested files folder and combine it with a flow and a custom library template. With this method, the whole procedure will be automatic, and no login will be required. The solution builds on two preconditions:
  • "Requested files" folders in Dropbox do not require log. A link to the folder is enough.
  • When the information uploaded to Dropbox is contained in fields that correspond to SharePoint library fields, a flow can copy field content from "Requested files" into new files in the SharePoint library.
In my demo I use quotations for meals at a staff party as an example. Such information is not sensitive, so I can use the Dropbox folder for it without taking risks if the link should be shared. The quotation form is restricted, so restaurant owners can only fill out the form and not modify the template. This is the process:
  1. Word files with forms to be filled out are sent to restaurant owners as e-mail attachments. Each e-mail has a link to the "Requested files" folder in Dropbox.
  2. Restaurant owners fill out the forms and upload them to the Dropbox "Requested files" folder. 
  3. A flow copies the information in each filled out form to new files in a SharePoint library, where the suggestions can be seen and rated by the staff.
Restaurant Flow for creating rating based files through Microsoft Word template and Quick parts
Step by step
This sounds simple enough, but building this kind of solution requires work with Word Quick Parts, a custom library template and custom SharePoint columns. Before you start with the actual flow, you must create a SharePoint library and a Word template with corresponding fields and set the library to use that template.

Then you can start building the flow, which starts from a blank template and actually is rather simple! If you are used to Flow or have studied the earlier Tips articles about Microsoft Flow, you will find this flow quite straight-forward.

All these actions give the Tips article about copying file info to SharePoint no less than six sections with step by step instructions. I hope they will be useful, if you want to try to create something similar!

Peter Kalmström
CEO and Systems Designer Business Solutions

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