Dreamforce Digest #2: The Future of Flow …and the Roadmap for the Rest

In the second part of our Dreamforce Digest series, I wanted to share some information about what’s on Salesforce’s roadmap for the coming releases. For me, this is probably the biggest benefit I get out of Dreamforce each year: attending roadmap talks and the ever-popular True to the Core session with Parker Harris, Shawna Wolverton, and a bunch of PMs.

We’ll get to the True to the Core stuff in a moment, but first let’s discuss Flow. Because early on in the Dreamforce week, a few community members were invited to a happy hour event hosted by the Process Automation (now called Lightning Flow) product management team, where we got to hear all about the future of the Lightning Flow Builder…

The Future of Flow

Before we begin, a quick recap on what Flow is, for any automation newbies out there. Outside of the good old workflow rules, Salesforce offers us two point-and-click ways to automate processes for our users. One is Process Builder: a structured, easy-to-use and surprisingly versatile tool, through which we can create the most common kind of automated processes. For when that won’t quite do the job, we have Visual Workflow (or just ‘Flow’ for short): Salesforce’s powerful and extensible workflow environment which allows you to build either screen-based flows or more advanced background processes by assembling your own canvas of elements, chained together in whatever way you wish. It’s the Visual Workflow tool we’ll be discussing here, and to learn more about that you can check out these previous posts.

OK, on with the show, and firstly let me tackle some of what these changes will not cover, because I think when people hear about changes to Flow, some of these questions may well be on the tip of their tongue…

Will the Flow Builder and Process Builder be consolidated into one unified tool?
No. And that’s chiefly because Process Builder already works really well for a huge bunch of more simple (but still more complex than workflow rules can achieve) automation use cases. The Lightning Flow team doesn’t want to take away from people the simplicity of creating automated processes in Process Builder. So the two tools will remain separate.

Will these changes bring improvements to the underlying flow engine?
No, or at least not yet. If you have one of those weird edge cases that is still bringing you performance or bulkification issues in Flow, this isn’t going to fix that. These changes are about improving the Flow Builder user interface. However, the PMs did share with us that the engineering team are hard at work on the core engine, making significant improvements there too, so let’s see what happens in the next few releases.

So, now that I’ve told you that these changes are really all about the UI of Flow Builder, I guess you want to see what it’ll look like, right? Yeah, erm, about that…

During the happy hour, Scott Kozinchik – the director of product management for Lightning Flow – let us know that we were very welcome to share information on what’s coming up, but that he’d rather we didn’t share any of the slide visuals we saw, for fear that they be taken out of context.

So, although I can’t show you what it’ll look like (at least not yet – this is pretty much breaking news right now, and is seriously Safe Harbor!), I can describe some of the key changes you can hope to see in the coming releases. So let’s dive in…

It will not be built on Flash
Since Adobe will be ending Flash in the not-too-distant future, and since browsers will begin blocking Flash even sooner, let’s start with this: yes, this gets the Flow Builder away from Flash. Hooray!

It will be redesigned, with a new UI
Although we can’t show you the new design just yet, let’s just say that if you’re familiar with what the Marketing Cloud Journey Builder or the Pardot Engagement Studio look like, then you’ll feel right at home in the new Flow Builder.

New functionality is coming too
As well as the updated UI, the new builder will benefit from some enhanced functionality, including things like:

  • Snap to grid for flow elements
  • The ability to bundle a set of elements together into a group
  • The capability to transform a group into a sub-flow
  • Annotations so that you can describe what each element or group does, and why
  • Collaboration within the builder, so you can collaborate with colleagues during the build

Confused whether you need ‘Record’ or ‘Fast’? Worry no more!
If those new pieces of functionality weren’t enough to get you excited, how about this? If you always struggle to work out whether you need to use a Record Lookup element or a Fast Lookup, or a Record Create versus a Fast Create, then relax. The plan is to unify these elements into one for each operation – so just pick the simple ‘Create’ element and you’re done.

And if your biggest issue with flows is not being able to debug them…
Although these changes do not bring the full capability to test our flows, we are getting closer to one aspect of that, with the addition of a ‘preview’ or ‘step-through’ option. This will allow you to preview how the flow will run with a set of specified inputs. Let’s say User A tells you they’re hitting an error when updating Record X. Plug in User A and Record X into the preview, and you can step through the flow in that context and inspect what’s going wrong.

If Flow isn’t your bag, then let’s move on to discussing that True to the Core session, and find out what we can expect to see across the rest of the platform.

The Roadmap for the Rest

As with every year, True to the Core was a highly enjoyable session, where Parker, Shawna and the PMs spoke openly and honestly about what they had achieved in the previous year, what they were planning, and what they still needed to work on.

Let’s start with the first of those, with a quick look at how the previous year has gone for the PMs and the scale of what they have been able to deliver through Lightning:

But, although I think it’s only right that we take stock and praise the PMs for what they have achieved, what you’re most interested in (and really what this session is all about) is seeing what is coming up. So let’s move on to that.

Across four key areas of ‘the core’ – Sales, Service, Reporting, and Platform – each PM shared with us the top ideas they are focusing on delivering. Here’s my take on some of the more interesting-looking – or simply the most needed – enhancements that are being worked on:

Sales

  • Mass-email all campaign members from a campaign record
  • Extend Path to account, campaign, and case
  • Add Task/Event reminders to push notifications in the Salesforce mobile app

Service

  • Case merge (and split, and dedupe)
  • Mass comment on multiple cases at once
  • Option to default ‘Send Notification’ when changing owner

Reporting

  • Expanded Lightning dashboard tables (see pic below)
  • Dashboard and chart colour customisation (see pic below)
  • Report subfolders
  • Field-to-field report filters (e.g. Opportunities where Close Date equals Created Date)
  • Ability to move the position of a custom formula field in reports
  • Row-level formulas in reports (less need for adding new formula fields to the object!)
  • Multi-column sorting

Platform

  • Client-side validation rules (find out if you’ll hit an error before hitting save!)
  • Address field type
  • New formula editor, with the removal of the formula compile limit
  • Experience-level control over how and where actions display across the three experiences (Lightning, Classic, and Mobile)
  • Permission set groups (a way of grouping permission sets without using profiles)
  • Switch statement in Apex
  • Ability to use custom metadata types in Process Builder, formulas, and validation rules
  • Lookup field standard Lightning Component
  • Expanding App Builder’s dynamic layout capabilities to apply at the field level (e.g. only show this field on the layout if some other field on the record has a value of ‘x’)

Conclusion

So there you have it – a taster of what is coming your way in the near future, if all goes to plan.

For me, the new Flow Builder UI will be very welcome, but I hope to see those engine improvements coming through along with the new look and feel. And on the wider roadmap, I’m particularly impressed with the number of changes planned for reporting and dashboards. I mean, come on, field-to-field filters, and the ability to build row-level formulas in the report without needing to use up a field on the object? That is going to be seriously useful!

What is it you’re most looking forward to, from this selection? Or is there something missing here which you think should be prioritised over these changes? Let us know in the comments, and – more importantly – try to get to Dreamforce next year so that you can tell Parker and Shawna in person!

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