Do you Know How to Flow?

Pretty much every educator in the world would say, “I wish I had more time in my day.”  There are just so many things we want to do for our students that we have a tough time fitting into the normal day.  What if we could automate tasks in our day and gain back some time and put it toward something else we want to do for our school?  Well, Microsoft Flow, or what is now Power Automate, might just be the tool you need to help power through your daily tasks.

How I discovered Power Automate

Recently I worked with a teacher who leads the yearbook at her school.  She was being overwhelmed by e-mails with pictures of school events from students and parents.  She said she wished there was a way to give parents and students a place to send the pictures, without her having to manually transfer the files from her e-mails to a folder in her drive.  I thought about setting up a google form that had a file upload option, but with that you would need to make sure parents have a google account in order to fill out the form.  I really wanted to help provide an option that was truly universal for all parents and students.  So I then considered setting up a flow.  I had only played around with flow before and had a very basic understanding of what it could do.  I wasn’t even sure it would work in our situation, since we use gmail as our cloud mail service.   I did some research and discovered that it could work with gmail, so I jumped in and thought I would see what I could do.

Setup

My first challenge was understanding the basic pieces of a flow, so here goes my shot explaining it to you.  A flow has two main pieces, a trigger, and action(s).  So a trigger is something that the flow is looking for and when it sees it happen, it kicks into gear.  The actions are everything that happens once the trigger occurs.  So in our example, the trigger is “When an e-mail is received”.  The action is “Save the attached files to a location in my drive”.  Easy right?  Well it is, and it isn’t.  Let me explain.

After reading some articles online and getting the basic idea of a flow, I knew it could automate things, but my new questions were what could trigger the flow?, what data or information could be passed?, and Where could I send the data?  I knew what I wanted to do – get attachments from the teacher’s e-mail and store them somewhere – but how could I know which ones were meant for the yearbook and where could I store the pictures?  How would we know who sent what pictures?

The great thing about flow, or “Power Automate” as it will soon be called, is that the home page has this awesome search box.  Just describe what you want to do and there is likely a template that will get you pointed in the right direction!

With the huge library of templates, I had a great jump start to getting this flow in place.  I was really excited when I saw a template titled “save Gmail attachments to OneDrive for Business”  I thought “Oh wow it is pretty much already done for me :)”

So I started out with this, but I didn’t see an answer to one of my biggest questions, how can I get only attachments that were intended for yearbook?

So like I always do when I don’t know what is going on, I just started clicking around to see what I could uncover, and … ah ha!  I had an idea when I saw the advanced options under “When a new email arrives”.  I saw that the flow could be triggered for e-mails addressed to a specific address, so an alias could easily help sort the mail.  I set up an alias like “schoolpics@schoolname.com” to be dedicated to this purpose.

Now, whenever an e-mail comes in to that dedicated address, the flow fires up and … then what??  Well luckily the template helped me from there. 

As you can see there was this circular icon that said “apply to each attachment” next to it.  Well after studying the boxes here I decided that the purpose here was to handle each attachment in the email.  Luckily this was already there because I wasn’t thinking about there being more than one picture attached, but actually I am sure nearly every e-mail would have several pictures attached.   So this is good!  It looked like everything else was good to go, the flow would save the attachment into a OneDrive folder called “e-mail attachments”, so from there I created a test e-mail and fired it away.

As I held my breath I watched the e-mail arrive in my inbox and then I went scrambling to my OneDrive folder and … wow there it was my test e-mail attachment!!!  Although it is a very simple thing, I felt very empowered.  I knew I had something that could potentially save this teacher a lot of time, and she could focus that time toward something else to help her school!

I am excited about Power Automate.  I believe there is a lot of potential here to help our teachers overcome the repetitive tasks they encounter in their daily work.  I have launched this flow for the teacher and she was very optimistic about what it will do. As I continue to learn about Power Automate, I hope to see more scenarios where I can save time or achieve something bigger for our district.  Connect with me on Twitter to discuss this post, or something awesome you are doing with Power Automate in your school.  Thanks for reading!