Microsoft Flow – Platform Review

It looks like Microsoft created a generic workflow platform, product independent.

Microsoft has software solutions, like MS Outlook with an [email] rules engine built into Outlook.  SharePoint has a workflow solution within the Sharepoint Platform, typically governing the content flowing through it’s system.

Microsoft Flow is a different animal.  It seems like Microsoft has built a ‘generic’ rules engine for processing almost any event.  The Flow product:

  1. Start using the product from one of two areas:  a) “My Flows” where I may view existing and create new [work]flows. b) “Activity”, that shows “Notifications” and “Failures”
  2. Select “My Flows”, and the user may “Create [a workflow] from Blank”,  or “Browse Templates”.  MSFT existing set of templates were created by Microsoft, and also by a 3rd party implying a marketplace.
  3. Select “Create from Blank” and the user has a single drop down list of events, a culmination events across Internet products. There is an implication there could be any product, and event “made compatible” with MSFT Flows.
    1. The drop down list of events has a format of “Product – Event”.  As the list of products and events grow, we should see at least two separate drop down lists, one for products, and a sub list for the product specific events.
    2. Several Example Events Include:
      1. “Dropbox – When a file is created”
      2. “Facebook – When there is a new post to my timeline”
      3. “Project Online – When a new task is created”
      4. “RSS – When a feed item is published”
      5. “Salesforce – When an object is created”
    3. The list of products as well as there events may need a business analyst to rationalize the use cases.
  4. Once an Event is selected, event specific details may be required, e.g. Twitter account details, or OneDrive “watch” folder
  5. Next, a Condition may be added to this [work]flow,  and may be specific to the Event type, e.g. OneDrive File Type properties [contains] XYZ value.  There is also an “advanced mode” using a conditional scripting language.
  6. There is “IF YES” and “IF NO” logic, which then allows the user to select one [or more] actions to perform
    1. Several Action Examples Include:
      1. “Excel – Insert Rows”
      2. “FTP – Create File”
      3. “Google Drive – List files in folder”
      4. “Mail – Send email”
      5. “Push Notification – Send a push notification”
    2. Again, it seems like an eclectic bunch of Products, Actions, and Events strung together to have a system to POC.
  7. The Templates list, predefined set of workflows that may be of interest to anyone who does not want to start from scratch.   The UI provides several ways to filter, list, and search through templates.

Applicable to everyday life, from an individual home user, small business, to the enterprise.  At this stage the product seems in Beta at best, or more accurately, just after clickable prototype.  I ran into several errors trying to go through basic use cases, i.e. adding rules.

Despite the “Preview” launch, Microsoft has showed us the power in [work]flow processing regardless of the service platform provider, e.g.  Box, DropBox, Facebook, GitHub, Instagram, Salesforce, Twitter, Google, MailChimp, …

Microsoft may be the glue to combine service providers who may / expose their services to MSFT Flow functionality.

Create from Blank - Select Condition
Create from Blank – Select Condition

 

Create Rule from Template
Create Rule from Template
Create from Blank Rule Building UI
Create from Blank Rule Building UI

 

Update June 28th, 2016:

Opportunities for Event, Condition, Action Rules

  • Transcoding [cloud] Services
  • [IBM Watson] Cognitive APIs
    • e.g. Language:Translation; E.g.2. Visual Recognition;
  • WordPress – Create a Post
    • New text file dropped in specific folder on Box, DropBox, etc. being ‘monitored’ by MSFT flow [?] Additional code required by user for ‘polling’ capabilities
    • OR new text file attached, and emailed to specific email account folder ‘watched’ by MSFT Flow.
    • Event triggers – Automatic read of new text file
      • stylizing may occur if HTML coding used
    • Action – Post to a Blog
  • ‘ANY’ Event occurs, a custom message is sent using Skype for a single or group of Skype accounts;
    • On several ‘eligible’ events, such as “File Creation” into Box,  the file (or file shared URL) may be sent to the Skype account.
  • ‘ANY’ Event occurs, a custom mobile text message is sent to a single or group of phone numbers.
  • Event occurs for “File Creation” e.g. into Box; after passing a “Condition”, actions occur:
    • IBM Watson Cognitive API, Text to Speech, occurs, and the product of the action is placed in the same Box folder.
  • Action: Using Microsoft Edge (powered by MSN), in the “My news feed” tab, enable action to publish “Cards”, such as app notifications

Challenges \ Opportunities \ Unknowns

  • 3rd party companies existing, published [cloud; web service] APIs may not even need any modification to integrate with Microsoft Flow; however, business approval may be required to use the API in this manner,
  • It is unclear re: Flow Templates need to be created by the product owner, e.g. Telestream, or knowledgeable third party, following the Android, iOS, and/or MSFT Mobile Apps model.
  • It is unclear if the MSFT Flow app may be licensed individually in the cloud, within the 365 cloud suite, or offered for Home and\or Business?

Cloud Storage: Ingestion, Management, and Sharing

Cloud Storage Solutions need differentiation that matters, a tipping point to select one platform over the other.

Common Platforms Used:

Differentiation may come in the form of:

  • Collaborative Content Creation Software, such as DropBox Paper enables individuals or teams to produce content, all the while leveraging the Storage platform for e.g. version control,
  • Embedded integration in a suite of content creation applications, such as Microsoft Office, and OneDrive.
  • Making the storage solution available to developers, such as with AWS S3, and Box.  Developers may create apps powered by the Box Platform or custom integrations with Box
  • iCloud enables users to backup their smartphone, as well tightly integrating with the capture and sharing of content, e.g. Photos.

Cloud Content Lifecycle Categories:

  • Content Creation
    • 3rd Party (e.g. Camera) or Integrated Platform Products
  • Content Ingestion
    • Capture Content and Associated Metadata
  • Content Collaboration
    • Share, Update and Distribution
  • Content Discovery
    • Surface Content; Searching and Drill Down
  • Retention Rules
    • Auto expire pointer to content, or underlying content

Cloud Content Ingestion Services:

Cloud Ingestion Services
Cloud Ingestion Services

Applying Gmail Labels Across All Google Assets: Docs, Photos, Contacts + Dashboard, Portal View

Google applications contain [types of] assets,  either created within the application, or imported into the application.    In Gmail, you have objects, emails, and Gmail enables users to add metadata to the email in the form of tags or “Labels”.  Labeling emails is a very easy way to organize these assets, emails.   If you’re a bit more organized, you may even devise a logical taxonomy to classify your emails.

An email can also be put into a folder and this is completely different than what we are talking about with labels.  An email may be placed into a folder, and have a parent child folder hierarchy.  Only the name of the folder, and it’s correlations to positions in the hierarchy provide this relational metadata.

For personal use, or for small to medium size businesses, users may want to categorize  all of the Google “objects” from each Google App,  so why Isn’t there the capability to apply labels across all Google App assets?  If you work at a law firm, for example, and have documents in Google Docs, and use Google for email, it would be ideal to leverage a company wide taxonomy, and upon any internal search discover all objects logically grouped in a container by labels.

For each Google object asset, such as email in Gmail, users may apply N number of labels to each Google Object asset.

A [Google] dashboard, or portal view may be used to display and access Google assets across Google applications, grouped by Labels .  A Google Apps “Portal Search” may consist of queries that contain asset labels.  A  relational, Google object repository containing assets across all object types (e.g. Google Docs), may be leveraged to store metadata about each Google asset and their relationships.

A [Google] dashboard, or portal view may be organized around individuals (e.g. personal), teams, or an organization.  So, in a law firm, for example, a case number label could be applied to Google Docs,  Google Photos (i.e. Photos and Videos),  and of course, Gmail.

A relatively simple feature to be implemented with a lot of value for Google’s clients, us?  So, why isn’t it implemented?

One better, when we have facial recognition code implemented in Photos (and Videos), applying Google labels to media assets may allow for correlation of Emails to Photos with a rule based engine.

The Google Search has expanded into the mobile Google app.

Leveraging Google “Cards“, developers may create “Cards” for a single or group of Google assets.   Grouping of Google assets may be applied using “Labels”.   As Google assets go through a business or personal user workflow, additional metadata may be added to the asset, such as additional “Labels”.

Expanding upon this solution,  scripts may be created to “push” assets through a workflow, perhaps using Google Cloud Functions.  Google “Cards” may be leveraged as “the bit” that informs users when they have new items to process in a workflow.

Metadata, or Labels, may be used such as “Document Ready for Legal Review” or “Legal Document Review Completed”.

AI Assistant Summarizing Email Threads and Complex Documents

“Give me the 50k foot level on that topic.”
“Just give us the cliff notes.”
“Please give me the bird’s eye view.”

AI Email Thread Abstraction and Summarization

A daunting, and highly public email has landed in your lap..top to respond.  The email thread goes between over a dozen people all across the globe.  All of the people on the TO list, and some on the CC list, have expressed their points about … something.  There are junior technical and very senior business staff on the email.  I’ll need to understand the email thread content from the perspective of each person that replied to the thread.  That may involve sifting through each of the emails on the thread.  Even though the people on the emails are English fluent, their response styles may be different based on culture, or seniority of staff (e.g. abstractly written).  Also, the technical folks might want to keep the conversation of the email granular and succinct.
Let’s throw a bit of [AI] automation at this problem.
Another step in our AI personal assistant evolution, email thread aggregation and summarization utilizing cognitive APIs | tools such as what IBM Watson has implemented with their Language APIs.  Based on the documentation provided by their APIs, the above challenges can be resolved for the reader.   A suggestion to an IBM partner for the Watson Cognitive cloud, build an ’email plugin’ if the email product exposes their solution to customization.
A plugin built on top of an email application, flexible enough to allow customization, may be a candidate for Email Thread aggregation and summarization.  Email clients may include IBM Notes, Gmail, (Apple) Mail, Microsoft Outlook, Yahoo! Mail, and OpenText FirstClass.
Add this capability to the job description of AI assistants, such as Cortana, Echo, Siri, and Google Now.   In fact, this plug-in may not need the connectivity and usage of an AI assistant, just the email plug-in interacting with a suite of cognitive cloud API calls.

AI Document Abstraction and Summarization

A plug in may also be created for word processors such as Microsoft Word.   Once activated within a document, a summary page may be created and prefixed to the existing document. There are several use cases, such as a synopsis of the document.
With minimal effort from human input, marking up the content, we would still be able to derive the  contextual metadata, and leverage it to create new sentences, paragraphs of sentences.
Update:
I’ve not seen an AI Outlook integration in the list of MS Outlook Add-ins that would bring this functionality to users.