Automation made easy: Using Microsoft Visio to create Flows

One of the most anticipated features since September for me has been the ability to use Microsoft Visio to plan and create Flows. This capability is now in public preview, and part Visio. What follows is a walkthrough of my first Flow that I created with Visio.

Requirements

You will need the following to be able to follow up on this walkthrough:

  • A working Office 365 tenant – if you don’t have one, provision one for free here
  • A user account with permissions for creating Flows at https://flow.microsoft.com
  • Visio Online Plan 2 license – if you don’t have one, continue to the next topic to activate a trial plan

Activating a Visio Online Plan 2 trial license

I have some licensing benefits for being a Microsoft MVP and also for working in a company with multiple Microsoft Partner Competencies. Unfortunately even with combination I don’t have the the most expensive license for Visio, the Plan 2. Thankfully, in the era of cloud and SaaS, we can easily provision a (free) trial license for Visio Online Plan 2 for 30 days. Typically this is enough to understand the feature and capabilities and then make a educated guess if the license is worth purchasing.

To activate a Visio Online Plan 2 trial follow these steps:

  • Use the search box to search for ‘Visio‘ and then select Visio Online Plan 2
  • Select Get free trial – unless you really know you’re going to purchase the license immediately
  • Click through the usual confirmations. No credit card is needed for the trial.
  • Next, you’ll need to apply the license to one or more users. Click Users > Active users in Office 365 Admin Portal
  • As you should now have 25 free trial licenses for Visio Online Plan 2, apply it to the account that need to test the new features.

Now you should have a Visio Online Plan 2 license.

Installing Visio

I haven’t used Visio lately so it wasn’t installed in any of my regular workstations. Installing it is a breeze – follow these steps to get it installed:

  • With the user account you’ll want to use for Visio Online Plan 2 testing, login to Office.com
  • On the home page, click Install Office and select Other install options
  • Select Visio and then choose either 32-bit or 64-bit version. It needs to match your possible Office ProPlus version, so if unsure, select 32-bit.
  • Commence the setup. If you chose 32-bit, but your Office is 64-bit, you’ll get a warning for the mismatched types. Nicely enough the Office team is doing a stellar job by simply reverting to the 64-bit version without needing to restart the installation process.
  • Finally, accept the license agreement. You should also note that Visio is now licensed for Plan 2.
  • Once you run Visio, you can verify that the license is in place. My Visio version as of mid-January 2019 is 1901 (Build 11231.20080).

Creating Flows with Visio

At last we get to create something new. Follow these steps to create a workflow diagram in Visio, that is then exported to Flow for execution.

  • Once you have Visio running, select New and then select Basic Flow Diagram. You should see the small Flow logo as part of the template. This isn’t strictly required but I find it easier to get started with the correct template.  I chose the empty template underneath Basic Flow Diagram.
  • Click the Process tab to verify you can export to Flow.
  • Create a diagram by dragging a Start Event, End Event and a Task shapes on the empty sheet.
  • Arrange the shapes so that Start Event is first, then Task and then End Event. I like working within the same visual setup Flow natively gives me, ie. a top-down approach. It makes sense to add descriptive text for each shape. My Flow will be triggered when a new tweet is posted, and it will store the tweet details to a text file in Dropbox.
  • Next, click Process tab and then click Prepare to Export. This opens a task pane that prepares the diagram to be Flow compatible.
  • You can first select a trigger, by selecting the Start Event shape, and then finding a suitable trigger from Triggers and Actions tab within the task pane. Find an action for the Task shape also.
  • Note: If your account does not have access to Flow, you will inevitably receive an error by now. Go and fix the account within Office 365 Admin Portal or use Office’s Account-pane to switch to another account.
  • Your Flow should now resemble this:
  • Click Export in Process tab to have the Flow moved to.. Flow. Give it a meaningful name. Under See details you can see which connectors are currently being used for Twitter and Dropbox.
  • Complete the process by clicking Done

Next, open Flow and verify you can find your Flow in the list. You can now edit and fine-tune any aspect of the Flow.

Final thoughts

This feature is looking quite polished and seems to work very well in my initial testing. The biggest drawback, naturally, is the requirement for a Plan 2 for Visio. It’s understandable, as regular users might not even have a Visio license, thus requiring the highest tier license obviously fits power users (and Microsoft’s billing).

It’s still too early to say, but as a preliminary thought, only one Visio Online Plan 2 license is required for the author, and users do not seem to require a Visio license (as they are obviously not using Visio to benefit from the Flow).