Introduction to Microsoft Power Automate [2021 Version]

Introduction to Microsoft Power Automate [2021 Version]

The problem with repetitive tasks is that they tend to be really boring. They are big energy drainers and make work feel like a burden — at least, that’s what 90% of employees feel about repetitive work.

What’s worse is that repetitive work affects the bottom line as well. Businesses lose as much as $1.8 trillion in a year all from unproductive and repetitive tasks. That’s not hard to compute given that an average worker spends about 520 hours in a year doing the same tasks.

Fortunately, we are all living in a highly advanced digital world where automation isn’t only possible — it’s fairly easy to do. That’s what Microsoft Power Automate is all about.

Now, let’s get to know this product and what it brings to the table.

What is Power Automate?

Take care of what's important. Automate the rest with Power Automate.

Microsoft Power Automate is an online workflow automation service that enables you to create automated workflows between apps and services for various reasons like file synchronization, computing data in Excel, sending notifications, and many more.

If you have not heard about Power Automate, that’s because the product was known by a different name. Before October of 2019, it was known as Microsoft Flow. The name was changed as Microsoft believed the service can do more than simply create workflows.

Companies in different industries are using Power Automate to automate various business processes.

For example, the field teams of G&J Pepsi created their own merchandise app with Power Apps for store tracking. With the use of Power Automate, they’re able to trigger various alerts to the supervisor and upwards for different reasons.

Transforming in-store merchandising and auditing to achieve targeted business goals with Power Automate

Another example is illimity, an Italian cloud-native bank. With the use of Power Automate, they’re able to simplify, streamline, and automate the loan process. This reportedly saves them 15 hours a month.

The cool thing about Power Automate is that you can actually start for free. This offer is already quite great as you can create an unlimited number of automated cloud flows or start out from a template.

As for its paid plans, the per-user plan costs $15 per month and includes an unlimited number of active flows. To gain access to more advanced features like AI Builder and RPA bots, you need to upgrade to the plan with attended robotic process automation (RPA).

What are the types of flows you can create?

In Power Automate, there are five basic flow types you can create.

The first one is automated cloud flows, which performs one or more tasks automatically after it’s triggered by a specified event. On the other hand, instant cloud flows can be triggered manually as needed.

The third type is scheduled cloud flows. As its name suggests, this type of flow refers to those that perform one or more tasks on a schedule. Aside from choosing when it runs, you can also configure it to run as often as you want.

Build a scheduled cloud flow

The fourth type is desktop flows. These are robotic process automation flows that allow you to record or define a set of tasks to follow within your desktop or web browser. You can set a trigger for the flow to perform.

The last type is known as business process flows. The purpose of this flow is to guide users through a multistep process. This will improve the experience of users when using model-driven apps.

If you’re on the free plan, you can use all the cloud flows. Desktop flows and business process flow are only available on the paid plans. In addition, business process flows need connection with Microsoft’s database service, Dataverse.

What kind of templates are available?

What kind of templates are available?

When it comes to automating workflows, you can certainly create your own. But before doing so, make sure to check the templates repository as you may find an already existing template for what you need. There are thousands of pre-made templates you can use for common business processes

When browsing for templates, you can easily see all the apps the tool will be connecting to. You will also see what type of flow it will be using so you will know whether you have to schedule it or if it will start based on a trigger

One of the featured templates is “Get a push notification when you receive an email from your boss”.

Get a push notification when you receive an email from your boss

Every time you receive an email from your boss, you will receive a push notification. To use this, you will need an Office 365 email address and an installation of the Power Automate app on your phone or mobile device.

There are also templates available for complicated tasks. For example, there’s a template that will enable you to “Send form responses for approval”.

Editing an approval Power Automate template

What it does is that it starts an approval process that you can customize whenever you receive a new response. If the response is approved, the tool will record the response as a new item in a SharePoint list.

This way, you will be able to save a lot of time from creating your own workflow and configuring it the way you want it to work. The template already did that for you and all you need to do is supply the information and connect Power Automate with the concerned apps.

What is the use of connectors?

Now you may wonder…

How could Power Automate connect with different apps even those that aren’t created by Microsoft? What happens if the workflow you want to automate includes an app that’s not in a template?

The answer to that is connectors.

What is the use of connectors?

Here’s how Microsoft defines connectors:

A connector is a proxy or a wrapper around an API that allows the underlying service to talk to Microsoft Power Automate, Microsoft Power Apps, and Azure Logic Apps. It provides a way for users to connect their accounts and leverage a set of pre-built actions and triggers to build their apps and workflows.

This may sound a bit technical. The simple version of this is that a connector acts like a translator that will speak with apps and services that you want to connect to. They are what makes connecting to third-party apps possible.

Automating Twitter tasks via the Twitter connector

As of today, there is a connector for more than 300 apps and services. This includes famous ones like Twitter, RSS, Adobe Creative Cloud, MailChimp, Trello, Google Drive, Gmail, Instagram, and more.

If Power Automate doesn’t have a connector yet for an app or service that you’re using, you can create your own custom connector. This will allow the tool to talk to any data source via a swagger file (for reading different application programming interfaces).

The good thing here is that you don’t have to start from scratch. You can use Postman collection or an OpenAPI definition to describe the application process interface you want to connect.

What is the AI Builder all about?

Perhaps the addition of the AI Builder was one of the reasons why Microsoft had to change the name of Flow to Power Automate…

According to its documentation

AI Builder enables your business to use AI to automate processes and glean insights from your data in Power Apps and Power Automate.

This new feature enables you to add artificial intelligence to automated processes and improve business performance. This “turnkey” solution takes with it the power of AI through a point-and-click experience — no need for coding experience.

What is the AI Builder all about?

Within the AI Builder, there are various models you can use for different scenarios. Examples of such models include:

  • Key phrase extraction
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Text translation
  • Prediction
  • Form processing
  • Receipt processing
  • Object detection

Note that the models are categorized into the type of AI they use — text, prediction, and vision — and its build type (whether it’s custom and/or prebuilt). When choosing a model, it’s important to check its build type first.

The build type will give you an idea of whether the AI model works out of the box (prebuilt) or if you have to build, train, and publish it first for your intended use (custom). There’s no need to worry though since there are prebuilt models for almost any scenario in a business.

To use the AI Builder, all you have to do is choose an AI model, connect your data, tweak the settings, train your AI model, and get the results. You can then use the insights to create solutions for your business needs.

Get more by doing less

The ultimate objective of Power Automate is to help improve workforce productivity. It will literally save your business countless hours and help you and your employees work much more effectively.

No need to do all those repetitive tasks ever again. All you have to do is fire up Power Automate, choose a template (or create your own flow), and you’re done. You only have to do it once.

All these advantages help in improving your business processes. By automating processes, you will certainly get better results. Your employees will also be able to focus more on important tasks.

About Ryan

As the Principal Solutions Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage the Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments.

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