Receiving files from business partners that don’t match the agreed requirements/formats causes all sorts of problems in daily business. I found it particularly disturbing during month-end closing when time is really tight: You have a strict rule in which order each process has to run and there are many dependencies between them. So when then one import doesn’t work, many other processes will come to a halt as well. Fortunately, today there is a simple remedy for it: Automatically validate E-mail attachments with Flow and Power BI
Process Automation with Flow and Power BI
You can create a Flow that “listens” for incoming emails in a mailbox that match certain criteria and contain attachments. Flow can then extract these attachments and save them to an online-folder. After that, Flow triggers a refresh of a Power BI dataset, that imports these attachments and checks for the data quality-criteria that you have defined. Then you create measures for the data quality that trigger data driven alerts from Power BI service. Flow then listens for these alerts and sends an email back to the sender, requesting for a corrected file.
This not just saves crucial time, but also your nerves (and those of your team-mates).
Start a flow with a trigger that searches your mailbox for ingoing messages. There are different triggers available (also shared mailboxes or Gmail). Specify the criteria for which the attachments shall be checked to prevent unwanted emails being sent out to senders who are sending different attachments.
After this trigger, the first action has to be defined. The “Get email” action will just fetch the content of the email that triggered the flow. Only thing to do in this step is to choose the “Message Id” in the specified field and select to include attachments.
The next action will be to extract the attachment(s) and save them in a dedicated folder. Therefore I’m using a “Apply to each”-action. I select “Attachments” as the output from the previous step and define the action that shall be performed on them:
“Create file” saves each file to the folder path I’m defining in the first field. I select “Attachments Name” for the the File Name and the “Attachment Content” for File Content.
Now that the files are stored, I import them to Power BI and create one or more queries that check the critical elements. These could be:
- column headers match a defined list
- dates are valid
- only agreed product codes
- …. basically everything
In this example I just check for valid dates: Convert the column “Dates” to dates, check it and keep rows with errors.
I load the table to the datamodel and create a measure that counts the rows.
This measure is placed in a card visual (as this is one of the few visuals, that is suitable to trigger a data driven alert in the service). This will be published to the Power BI service.
Power BI Service
In the service, I pin the card visual to a dashboard. From there I can configure a data driven alert:
Back to Flow
Back in Flow, I create a trigger to refresh the dataset that we just created in the Power BI service. This is possible through a custom connector (Chris Webb describes here how to create one using an open API-definition. But if you’re not so familiar with setting up custom connectors yet, I highly recommend Ida Bergums excellent walkthrough of how to do it manually. )
By navigating to the dataset, I get the URL that displays the Id/Key for this task:
After the dataset is refreshed, the Flow now gets a trigger that listens to data driven alert from Power BI. I have to select in the “Alert Id” from Power BI in there:
In the last action I define the details of the email that shall be sent to the sender of the faulty attachments:
Looks very straightforward, doesn’t it?
Think again and check this article where I show the major error in this Flow and the missing elements that make this Flow really flow in a corporate environment.
Until then: Enjoy & stay queryious 😉
PS: Looks like I forgot to mention that I loooove Microsoft Flow 😉
Edit 08-March-2019: This task can be done without the Power BI-integration once the Power Query-action in Flow is fully available (also for non-SQL-DBs: see this blogpost) !! Actually, if you can use a SQL-server today, that approach might be suitable for you already (depending on the type and size of the incoming files). But beware some limitations for the SQL-action in Flow still exist: You cannot run a script via the gateway for example.
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I expected you to make M read straight from Exchange to parse the attachment instead saving it to a folder.
Any word on if there’s been progress on M in Data Flows/Logic Apps? I feel like development has stopped.
I’m not aware that a functionality like that was planned.
… Actually, I would be totally satisfied if we would have the full Power Query experience in Flow 🙂
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