What is Microsoft Flow?

Microsoft Flow is a versatile automation tool that features hundreds of connectors and the list is growing. Flow is probably best known for its automation of repetitive tasks, or creating approval workflows. But it’s much more than just automation for repetitive tasks, it has the ability to gather and mine data for analytics from any source that has an API. (Not familiar with APIs? Click here to read a brief description.). Here are a few of the data analytics tools we have created with Flow:

  • Collect data from social media APIs including Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and Vimeo
  • Automatically page JSON data when an API returns a limited data set
  • Load data into tables (Excel or SQL) or update existing rows
  • Translate data loaded from APIs into another language

Flow, data analytics, and Power BI

If you read our page on Power BI or are familiar with the software, you might remember that the built-in Power Query tool allows you to connect to APIs. So why use Microsoft Flow to gather data if we can just load it directly into Power BI? As the name suggests, Power Query only queries existing data sources. Power BI needs a dataset to work from, it doesn’t allow you to export or save the data it gathers from APIs. This limits the ability to view historical data and produce line graphs showing data changes over time, for example.

Microsoft Flow does all the heavy lifting up front, even allowing you to simplify the data from multiple API calls or data sources before loaded into Power BI. Power BI has the ability to create amazing graphs and dashboards to visualize data. However, producing reports containing the underlying data will be much easier using Microsoft Flow. The combination of Microsoft Flow and Power BI is very powerful for gathering, transforming and loading data, and creating useful reports.

Other uses for Flow

Since we are video producers we’re always looking for ways to automate tasks that otherwise would take a lot of time to do manually. For example, we produce videos that get translated into various languages. Each of those videos need new captions created, and the length of those captions always changes. The group we create the media for enters the timecode and translation into an Excel workbook, so all the data we need to create the captions already exists. With Flow we are able to transform the timecode and translated captions into .srt files that Premiere Pro recognizes. This saves many hours of manually entering the captions into Premiere each time our videos get translated.