Rajalakshmi has been regularly sharing learnings and her views on automation, AI/ML, and other tools. She recently highlighted the new features of Power Automate – the Microsoft RPA product to automate business processes. I want to share a few learnings and observations on the other Power platform product – PowerApps & MS Flow.
1. Disjointed process & Manual interventions: As you start automating business processes, you quickly realize that few manual steps remain as isolated islands. Most often these steps could be a checkpoint or approval, where you still want to bring in a human for decision making. In an ideal world, you can gather sufficient historic data and come up with a predictive model to make these decisions. But there are use cases where automation of these islands doesn’t provide enough business returns. This where you can use Microsoft Flow & Outlook to stitch together a human-in-loop. Maybe in the future integration with Teams will enable user inputs for an automated process.
2. Manual or Ad-hoc trigger: Let us say you are being deputed to a new location or a project. This may trigger a set of events and tasks. Though the events/tasks can be automated through an RPA or other tools, the trigger may be manual and ad-hoc. Also, when it is triggered a set of inputs needs to be provided by a user. Most RPA tools don’t have an in-built low-code capability, they may quickly move in this direction. You can PowerApps forms to build a simple form, which can be deployed across mobile, desktop, or tablet form factors. It also integrates into MS-Teams.
The direction Microsoft is taking with its PowerApps and Power Automate platform suggests that it wants to empower business users to build small point automation wherever required. You can trigger a PowerApps Flow or Power Automate from SharePoint, Teams and maybe in Outlook and other places. There seems to a strong commitment to enabling developers at scale on this platform as seen from the below features & focus.
A. Availability of templates: You can select a template that is quite similar to your use cases and start adopting it for your needs. It shortens the learning curve.
B. Focus on Diagnosis & Testability: In PowerApps you can quickly test a form or an entire app very quickly. The debugging features not only identify any issues within a form, but also points to runtime, performance, and backend integration failures.
C. Developer support: I have faced few hiccups with PowerApps, but most of them could be resolved by a quick search in Microsoft forums. A chatbot to support developer queries will come in a future version of Power Automate.