Microsoft Flow was introduced a couple of years ago, and covered in ToW #401; it’s basically a glue between different online applications, allowing the exchange of data between them and being driven by events and actions.
Sign up, sign in, and when you go to create a new Flow, you can start with a blank canvas, or by customising a pre-built template, of which there are many.
Learn how to build Flows here.
Many of the templates for Flow are quite esoteric – when a tweet on a particular topic appears, write a log to a Sharepoint site and send a notification to a Teams channel, that kind of thing. But there are plenty of really useful connectors that can be combined in time-saving ways; here’s a really handy way of bringing traditional data sources into the modern era: an email parser, called Parserr.
After signing up with Parserr – free if you only need a few uses per month – you can then crack open mail that is consistent in format and contains some information you’d like to extract and use elsewhere, such as confirmation of an appointment or maybe a travel booking. In practice, you get given an inbox with a unique email address within Parserr and you’d set up a rule in Office365 or Outlook.com to send mails that meet some inbox rule to that address, where it would be parsed for you and key data fields then sent back to Flow.
e.g. if email comes from a specific source address or it has a subject that indicates it’s a particular type of reservation, then forward to your email@example.com inbox address, extract the details of the booking then do something with them within Flow.
Start by sending an example mail to your Parserr inbox, then you can define rules to identify content within it (by looking for set keywords, going to specific line numbers and so on).
Create a rule for each piece of information you want to extract, and it will effectively create a field:
Once set up, you create the Flow by choosing the connectors for Parserr and whatever other applications you need to work on the information.
In this example, we’re using Office 365 to create an appointment that matches a reservation – the arrival and departure dates are provided by the source email, and converted to YYYY-MM-DD format within Parserr, then dragged across in Flow to match the Start & End times of an “event”. We’ll tack on T16:00 to the arrival time and T10:00 to the departure as that’s the check in and check out times, and thus create an ISO8601-compliant date/time such as 2019-04-05T08:00, which Office365 will use as the start or end time of an appointment.
“Advanced options” gives you further control (such as adding body text that might contain static text and other fields provided by Parserr, other addresses to forward the invite to, setting if you want it to be free/busy/tentative, reminder duration, time zones etc).
And that’s it: you can test the logic is working within each system – in Parserr, you can continually re-run the processing of your initial sample mail until you know the data is being extracted as you’d like, and within Flow you can keep testing your formatting etc by either triggering a new input or by working with the last set of data that came over from the source.
Once you’re happy just save the Flow, and it will automatically create an appointment in your calendar every time you get a matching email forwarded to the Parserr system – all in a few seconds.
See more on using Parserr with Flow and here’s a worked example.
Month: April 2019
Tip o’ the Week 473 – Teams Shortcuts
Many people who rely on the same applications to do repetitive tasks, will want to learn quicker ways of doing them – and use shortcut keys to good effect. Shortcuts have been covered in ToW previously – eg. how to start modern apps quickly, or navigating between running apps.
As world+dog moves from internal corporate email to Teams, Slack etc, it’s handy to know how to get the best out of the new messaging environment. Before abandoning Outlook already, here’s a reminder of some especially useful shortcut keys:
And there are lots and lots more.
When it comes to using Teams, one of the most useful shortcut tips is essentially the same as the Outlook set above – CTRL-number takes you to one of the nodes on the side-bar that corresponds to the number from the top – eg CTRL-4 will jump to Meetings, which is handy if you have Teams calls in you calendar and want to join the calls from there rather than Outlook.
Incidentally, if you normally go into an appointment in Outlook and click the “Join Teams Meeting” link in the text body, you may tire of continually telling Outlook that yes, you did mean to switch applications, and it’s OK, you already have the desktop app…
Click the “Join Teams Meeting” icon on the Ribbon in Outlook instead, and you’ll skip this. If you’re super-skilful then you can jump straight to that command without lifting your fingers from the keyboard – just press the ALT key and you’ll see shortcut letters appear under each of the sections of the Ribbon; press the corresponding one (“H” if you’ve opened the meeting up in Outlook already), and you’ll then see a letter combo that will activate the Ribbon commands – Y1 in this case will jump straight into the meeting.
There are many other shortcuts in Teams, with varying degrees of usefulness. Customising the UI is still a bit clunky (eg you can’t add shortcuts straight to the sidebar or move items on it up and down) but you may be able to find a quick way of doing the things you need most. To see a summary of shortcut keys whilst in teams, just press CTRL-. (ie CTRL and full stop/period ‘.’).
Tip o’ the Week 472 – Update Store & Office apps
We’re all used to Windows Update or other software automatically downloading and installing updates (on phones, TVs, cars…). Sometimes the updates are at more of a leisurely pace than keen users might want though occasionally the recipients demand to hold back the updates until they elect to install.
The Windows 10 October 2018 is now being pushed to (nearly) everyone, though business users will have the option of pausing Windows Updates in case they want to enact a temporary delay for some particular reason – you’re about to go on a trip, for example – though it’s not meant as a centralised policy control: IT departments have other ways to do that. Windows 10 Homes users will soon get the ability to defer updates for up to 35 days, too.
How often applications update themselves is largely down to the publisher, but it’s usually possible to give the apps a prod to see if there are published updates before they get pushed out to you.
In the Microsoft Store app, for example, go to the ellipsis menu on the top right. You’ll see Downloads and updates, which will force the check for updates for all your installed Store apps. Even if you’ve turned on the automatic app update checks, it’s worth taking a look periodically as some of the apps you use most often might have updates pending.
If you find that most of the stuff you’re offered is updates to boring apps that you don’t use, then you could just wait for them to fetch their own in time. If, however, you spot an individual update to an app that you know you want to have the latest version of, then click the down arrow to the right to get it right away, or click the app name to look at its page in the Store and see what’s new.
Of course, non-Store apps may still offer their own updates directly – to check for updates to the Microsoft Office suite, for example, try going into Word (or Excel or PowerPoint if those are your most-used Office apps) and from the start screen that offers a few previously-opened files, templates you’ll never use etc, look to the bottom-left and you’ll see Account.
Click Account to go to the product information page, which will let you check for updates, show you the current installed version number of the the application, and maybe even let you sign up for more updates through the Insider program.
After you’ve installed any pending updates, the What’s New option will be active and will show you a summary of what has changed, in a pane within the app itself.
Or check the View Updates option at any time, and it’ll take you to the web to see what the latest updates contain.