Improving Automated Business Processes with Office 365

After the initial implementation of Office 365, organisations will typically spend some time looking at their existing business processes to identify ways that Office 365 can improve them. It’s nearly impossible to move all processes at once, but identifying and improving the most highly utilised ones will certainly assist with organisation-wide adoption of Office 365.

Office 365 comes with a lot of tools and it can be challenging to narrow them down to get a full picture of the pros and cons that may affect a development process. So let’s take a look at some of the questions that frequently arise when reviewing requirements for a business process and how the Office 365 suite of tools might answer them.

Selecting the Right Office 365 Tool

When looking to improve a business process in Office 365 with a no or low-code tool, there are typically three options to consider: Microsoft Forms, SharePoint Lists/Libraries and PowerApps. The first thing to review is the current state of the business process and its complexity. If the process begins with something like simple data entry into an Excel spreadsheet with minimal logic, then Microsoft Forms might be a good fit. Microsoft Forms works well for those who are not very technical and need something simple and straightforward to manage the form. The biggest con of Microsoft Forms is it offers minimal field types and options for logic.

If the field types are more complicated than what Microsoft Forms offers, the next step is a SharePoint list (or library). SharePoint lists offer numerous field types and have some built-in features like views and validation. They are also a great jumping off point to utilize other tools like PowerApps. Libraries should be considered if a document upload is what initiates the business process.

PowerApps come into play when the logic of the form goes above and beyond what SharePoint lists can do out of the box. Think things like cascading dropdowns, repeating tables and connecting to data outside of the current list. Also, with PowerApps there is the bonus of adding mobile apps.

One other consideration is the audience for the business process. If that audience contains unlicensed external users, you may need to stick with Microsoft Forms or SharePoint Lists or Libraries, as PowerApps isn’t currently available for external users.

Finding Your Business Process’s “Flow”

Once the business process has a home, the next step is to establish how the process needs to flow. Use Microsoft Visio, or a similar tool, to map out the exact process. Are there approval stages? How many? Does that data need to be moved elsewhere when the process is complete? These are all great questions to ask when mapping out the workflow.

The main tool for workflows used to be SharePoint Designer. While that is still an option, a lot of people using Office 365 have turned to Flow to replace SharePoint Designer workflows. Like PowerApps, Flow comes with a learning curve. If you are new to workflows, Flow is a much more user-friendly version of Designer.

Flow does have some pre-built templates that come in handy. One example is a template that automatically sends data submitted to Microsoft Forms to a SharePoint list. This is perfect for those who like the user experience of Microsoft Forms but need the data in a SharePoint list for either reporting or to continue a more complex business process.

Visualising the Process

Once automation is up and running, the next thing to consider is how the user will interact with all of it. This can be most easily achieved by using modern pages in SharePoint to give each type of user their own experience in a dashboard view. These pages can contain links to a form, views of lists or libraries, and embedded PowerApps. There is also an option to embed visualisations of data from Power BI. This does require some licensing considerations, but can be extremely helpful for those who need quick answers about the business process and how it is functioning. Microsoft also recently added connector web parts, which allow you to connect and display data outside of Office 365. Creating these robust experiences for users will help with overall adoption and ease the training burden.

Taking the considerations above will get your organisation started with automating your business solutions. If you have questions on how to further apply these to your business, feel free to speak to us! Send us a message or give us a ring on 1300 302 207.