Zoho takes on IFTTT and Microsoft Flow with cloud app integration tool Credit: Zoho

Zoho takes on IFTTT and Microsoft Flow with cloud app integration tool

Business app suite provider Zoho has launched Flow, a workflow automation tool that lets users connect a range of cloud applications to create their own automated processes.

Users already familiar with IFTTT (If This, Then That), Zapier, Microsoft Flow or other app integration tools will find Zoho’s approach similar. Each workflow consists of a trigger event followed by one or more actions. A trigger might be when a new ticket is created in a service desk application; an action could be an alert or ticket escalation message automatically sent to the relevant team’s communication channel.

Other trigger examples could be when an email is received from a particular person or a change is made in a CRM application. “For something like this, you shouldn’t have to write any code,” said Zoho chief evangelist Raju Vegesna.

Even though cloud computing has made it easier and more affordable to deploy business apps, it has created a need to simplify process flows that cross multiple platforms from multiple vendors, said Brent Leary, co-founder and Partner of Atlanta-based advisory firm CRM Essentials.

“Workflow automation tools make it easier and more efficient to integrate disparate cloud apps and create process flows at the speed of business today,” he said.

Zoho has its own wide range of applications, but Flow can connect a variety of third-party apps, including some rival platforms. Currently, more than 100 applications are supported, 20 of which are Zoho’s own tools such as its Zoho CRM, Mail and Docs apps.

With the launch of Flow, Zoho is competing with more established integration platforms. By way of comparison, Zapier, which also focuses on business users and has been around since 2011, has more than 1,000 web app integrations, while Microsoft Flow, launched in late 2016, has 206.

Zoho also provides more than 200 templates to automate common processes in various industries.

The number of solutions already available with more app integrations means the workflow automation space “continues to get more competitive,” said Leary. “So it will make it more difficult for Flow to gain traction.”

Zoho Flow builder alternative Zoho

Zoho Flow's builder tool provides a drag-and-drop interface in which workflows are created and displayed.

According to Vegesna, a major differentiator for Zoho Flow is its builder tool, which provides a drag-and-drop interface in which workflows are created and displayed. Another is the ability to create custom functions.

While workflows can be simple alerts, logic functions allow more complex and detailed workflows to be set up, including time-based actions. Users can code custom functions using Zoho’s own programming language, Deluge, which is used by some 50,000 developers globally. 

An example of this would be the ability to insert custom code to perform sentiment analysis on the content of a ticket – i.e. positive, natural or negative - and then add decision branches that direct it to the relevant communication channel. If the sentiment is negative, the ticket can be posted in Slack, for instance. Or if it is positive, a timed trigger could automatically escalate the ticket after a day if it is still open.

“Logic like this can be created and customized and by looking at it visually [with the builder tool] you really know what is going on with the flow,” said Vegesna.

The ability to build process flows that take sentiment into consideration for branching purposes is “a big positive” that makes Flow attractive, said Leary.

“The branching capabilities with sentiment offer something that will appeal to many people, along with a really nice UI that simplifies the flow creation process and make it more attractive for end users to try out,” he said. 

“And if you're a Zoho One customer, it's even better because Flow is included, so you get to use it for no additional cost.”

Zoho Flow costs $10 per organization per month and is available for free as part of the Zoho One subscription service.

A dashboard is available for admins to access metrics about Flows that are in use and being created. This provides feedback on when and how their workflows executed.

Zoho Flow dashboard Zoho

Zoho Flow's dashboard lets admins access metrics about Flows in use and being created.

The Indian company, which sells predominantly to small and midsize firms, has around 30 million customers using its tools. It bundled all 38 of these tools together into a single package, Zoho One, for a subscription fee of $30 a month per user. At the end of last year, Zoho also launched its Slack group chat rival, Cliq.

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