With a quiet afternoon, following the holiday break, I set my mind to a task on my to-dos; creating a Power Automate Flow which merges Word documents into one combined document, all within Teams. How hard could it be? After all, it is two Microsoft Office files of the same type being merged into another file of the same type within Microsoft’s tool of choice for office collaboration. It turns out it is not straightforward but is possible. This is how.
Working in presales I write a lot of responses to requests for proposals/quotes etc. as well as providing general capability documents to sales folk. It turns out a lot of the content needed to answer these requests is the same. Over time, we have developed Word documents which cover the main topics. We have these in folders and draw upon them, as needed.
Until now, putting a response together involved getting a blank Word document and inserting the content of these source files. The plan was for the Flow to eliminate the manual stitching.
What Did Not Work
Initially I thought Power Automate would have a raft of Word Actions to choose from. It turns out this is not the case.
Making a PDF or populating a Word template with text, no worries. File manipulation, not so much. Even SharePoint and OneDrive Actions came up short. File content extraction was possible but merging was nowhere to be seen.
I thought, maybe, I could extract the file contents from two source files and then create or update a new file in some way but this also failed. I expect it might be possible to convert the File Content objects to a manipulation-friendly format, strip out headers and footers and merge the content through script and turn them back into a File Content object for file insertion but that smelled a little too much like code and so I looked for an alternative.
Encodian To The Rescue
While I wanted to keep things all things Microsoft (and non-Premium), I soon started considering third party options. However, being cheap, I also wanted something I did not have to pay for. Encodian came through with the goods.
This was the library of Actions I was expecting to have been built natively by Microsoft but beggars cannot be choosers.
With an Encodian Free Plan allowing 50 Action calls per month, this was going to meet my needs.
With the Actions I needed, I started putting the Flow together.
Where The Flow Appears
My hope was to call the Flow from the Teams folder but this proved impossible. While I could add the Power Automate tab to a Team, every time I hit the “New flow” button and created a Flow it would not appear.
Fortunately, I could see my Flows from the Power Automate icon down the left hand side of Teams which was fairly easy to add in (although I still needed to click the “View all flows” button to make them appear.
From here I could manually trigger my Flow “Create Response”.
The “Manually trigger a flow” Trigger did the job for me and the ability to add inputs also made life easier. Here we have:
- Client Name: This is a text input used to set the final file name and to make text replacements through the document
- CRM or ERP?: This is a text input (with drop-down options) as some templates have a CRM and ERP version
- YES/NO options: These define which Word documents to pull into the final response document.
A word of warning here, while the inputs appeared as expected when triggering the Flow, once a YES/NO option was toggled on, it was impossible to untoggle it. If you no longer wanted a source document to be added in, you had to cancel the trigger and re-run the Flow. I tried to use text inputs instead but could not get the Power Automate Condition Action to accept <<input>> = “YES” as, for some reason, it did not accept the string input as being a string. Perhaps there is a simple fix for this but, as I could get it working with the YES/NO, I moved on. The enemy of progress is perfection.
Another word of warning here. The inputs appear in the order they were created. So, if they appear in the wrong order for you, your options are deleting and recreating them (and fixing up your Flow to point to the new input) or extracting the Flow, hacking the Zip file and reimporting it.
Get The File Contents
Next was to get the File Contents from all the source files. For this, I used the SharePoint “Get file content using path” action. This allowed me to browse the Team file structure to find the source files. I also had a placeholder blank Word document which I used a little further on in the Flow.
I found the final result was more stable if I also toggled the “Infer Content Type” advanced setting to “No”.
ERP Or CRM?
Next I split the Flow to construct the final document based on whether it was a CRM or ERP response.
The developers (both of you) who read this may be uncomfortable with this approach and that is fair enough. The idea of grabbing all the file contents first, then splitting the process into two paths which have a lot of commonality between them means we are grabbing file content we will not use e.g. we will not use ERP file content in a CRM response, and also means maintenance will likely have to be done twice in the two branches if there is an adjustment which applies to both types of responses. In my defence, my intention was to build a proof of concept so optimisation was a secondary concern. I do have it on my list to “refactor” the Flow down the track. One thing to consider is, of course, that we only get 50 Encodian Actions per month so, whatever our final design for the Flow is, we want to minimise the number of Encodian Actions.
Constructing The Document
The two branches follow essentially the same process so I will break down just one. To merge the content for the final document, we use the Encodian “Merge Word Documents” Action.
For each File Content previously extracted a little bit of script
- triggerBody()[‘boolean_3’] refers to the input parameter
- outputs(‘Get_00_Xxxx_Xxxxxxx_XXX_Xxxxxxxx’)?[‘body’] refers to the relevant file content
- outputs(‘Get_Blank_File_Contents’)?[‘body’] is the default blank Word document file contents I mentioned earlier
This sees if the Trigger toggle was activated for that section of the document and, if so, brings it in to the response. You can construct the above script using the Expression builder and referencing Dynamic Content which makes life easier. Another small bug I noticed was the Expression builder was not popping up unless I put the Power Automate Builder in its own window with the “Pop out app” button in Teams – Power Automate.
Next I created the response file using the SharePoint “Create file” Action.
The File Name is simply the Client Name input with “.docx” concatenated to the end.
Again, this was fairly easy to construct with the Expression Builder.
The File Content is from the previous Encodian Action.
Feeling confident, I then used Encodian’s “Search and Replace Text” Action to set the client name in the final document. In our source documents, we used “[Client]” to refer to the client name so it was a case of taking the input Client Name and replacing everywhere “[Client]” was mentioned.
The Action can handle PDFs and Word documents so the File Type is specified, the Filename uses the same concatenation script as the file creation step. In writing this blog I noticed I used the same File Content reference as the file creation step and, therefore, we can probably remove the file creation step and create it after the text replacement. More refactoring.
As can be seen above, the Phrases Search Text is what we are looking for in the document and the Phrases Replacement Text is what we put in its place. In this case we replace it with the client name we got from the Trigger input.
Finally, we need to insert our manipulated file content back into the response file which we do with a SharePoint “Update file” Action.
The File Identifier is the Path from the “Create file” Action and the File Content is the content from the previous step.
The End Result
Once set up, you can go to Teams and the Power Automate icon on the left, bring up your Flows, and run the Flow from the ellipsis (three dots) on the right.
Up pops the trigger inputs which we complete and press “Run flow”.
After a little while (less than 10 minutes, usually 1-2) a new file will be created in the folder specified in the Create file action. This will combine all the source files selected and make the text replacements specified.
If anyone knows fixes for the bugs mentioned or other tips for merging Word documents, feel free to add them in the comments.