Ignite 2019: Microsoft moves into RPA with latest Power Platform updates

November 4 2019

Microsoft is preparing to launch its own robotic process automation (RPA) solution in the near future. The Power Platform team is going to rebrand Microsoft Flow as Power Automate and add more features to that it says will fit the RPA segment.

That announcement, along with other changes coming to the Power Platform around bots, improved Teams integration, and new pre-built models for AI Builder, were announced around this week's Microsoft Ignite event.

Power Automate will provide "a unified automation platform that can bridge the gap between API-based automation and UI-based automation," writes James Phillips, Microsoft corporate vice president for the business applications group that covers both Dynamics 365 and Power Platform.

One of the key additions for Power Automate is UI flows, which will give point and click tools to record manual processes and play them back.

UI flows will have a public preview that requires signup. Power Automated will also support API-based automation and continue to offer pre-built integrations, which are now up to over 275. Microsoft expects to see customers use Power Automate in scenarios where legacy systems, modern systems, and paper-based processes are all still in use. Optical character recognition and related AI can reduce reliance on employees reading paper forms and UI flows can automate data entry in legacy systems.

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Power Virtual Agents is also approaching public preview, writes Phillips. This is a new offering, he states, and appears to carry forward the same approach as the preview of Dynamics 365 virtual agents for customer service, which offers a no-code starting point for designing interfaces to help with customer service and sales scenarios. With Power Virtual Agents, the value proposition extends farther into HR, finance, or other scenarios that are not customer-facing. Phillips also noted that Virtual Agents can use Power Platform's prebuilt integrations, and developers can enhance no-code bots to take advantage of Cognitive Services and Bot Framework.

Power BI is getting security enhancements that can be used with Microsoft Information Protection and Microsoft Cloud App Security. Sensitivity labels and organization-wide sensitivity policies will add protection to data. And the enhancements will allow for real time monitoring, alerts, and risk remediation.

Microsoft is also improving how it brings Power Platform tools to Teams.

Power Apps creators can now publish their apps directly to their company’s app library in Teams, which will make them both more discoverable and easier to add, including by pinning them to the left rail of the Teams interface according to Phillips. He explained how Power Automate and Power BI use will also improve:

New triggers and actions for Power Automate are now available within Teams. These capabilities streamline the completion of common team and personal tasks, such as scheduling focus time and automating document approvals.

New features coming to Power BI in 2020 include the ability to create rich adaptive cards in Teams conversations, which help users see and act on their data. An improved Power BI tab experience in Teams will also make selecting the correct reports easier than ever.

Four new pre-built models are coming to AI Builder, now in public preview:

  • Key phrase extraction— identifies the main talking points from your text
  • Language detection—identifies the predominant language from your text
  • Text recognition—extracts embedded printed and handwritten text from images into machinereadable character streams
  • Sentiment analysis—detects positive, negative, neutral or mixed sentiment in social media, customer reviews, or any text data

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Prior to co-founding MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason was a Principal Software Consultant at Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), where he implemented solutions, trained customers, managed software development, and spent some time in the pre-sales engineering organization. He has also held consulting positions at CSC Consulting and Monitor Group.

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