Microsoft Power Automate is becoming an increasingly popular tool being used across different industries to streamline repetitive tasks by automated business processes. I spoke with
Ryan: What is Power Automate?
Larry: Power Automate is a cloud service and low-code framework that provides the ability to automate business processes and connect business applications and their related data.
Ryan: Is this a tool used primarily by developers?
Larry: Power Automate is a tool targeted at both business power users and more technical developers. Business power users, so-called “citizen developers”, who have a direct understanding of business rules and the needs of their organization can leverage Power Automate to directly implement workflow automation by taking advantage of its low-code environment to create “Flows”.
And since Power Automate is closely integrated with Logic Apps and Azure, its capabilities can be extended by professional developers to enable more complex flows that are not natively supported out of the box.
Ryan: How do you access Power Automate?
Larry: Power Automate is accessed via a web client or a native mobile application, and provides a user-friendly experience for authoring, executing, managing, securing flows. With the recent addition of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) integration, Power Automate’s UI Flows can be used to control and automate both native Windows applications and legacy web applications that don’t have existing connectors.
Ryan: Does Microsoft provide any templates to help someone new to Power Automate get started?
Larry: Yes. You can start automating common business processes immediately with thousands of pre-built templates. Power Automate also supports connections to existing cloud services, including both Microsoft services such as OneDrive, SharePoint, Dynamics 365, Azure SQL, Teams, as well as numerous third-party cloud services such as Salesforce, Google Drive/Sheets/Tasks, MailChimp, Twitter, WordPress, Zendesk, YouTube, and hundreds more.
Ryan: How would I use a connector to link from Dynamics 365 to a completely different system, like Salesforce, SharePoint, or Twitter.
Larry: Each connector can expose Triggers and/or Actions. Triggers can be used to initiate a Flow and start a business process, and include events such “when a new customer is created in Salesforce”, or “when a new file is created in a folder in SharePoint”, or “when a new Tweet is posted that meets my search criteria”. Then you can define an Action.
Actions are the steps available for interacting with a cloud service, such as for loading data from a system, sending data to the service, or instructing the service to perform an activity.
Ryan: What would be an example of an Action?
Larry: Actions can include “creating a new Contact in Dynamics 365 Sales”, “sending a marketing email via MailChimp”, or “querying a list of customers from Salesforce”.
Ryan: What if I want to leverage Power Automate to connect to a system that doesn’t have a published connector available?
Larry: For cloud services that don’t have a Connector implemented, Power Automate enables users via its configuration-based “Custom Connector”. Users can access the service using a “Custom Connector” without writing any code if the cloud service is accessible via a REST API. For on-premise data, users can leverage the “On-Premise Data Gateway” developed by Microsoft, which enables data within an organization’s private network to be securely connected to flows.
Ryan: What types of Flows are available in Power Automate?
Larry: Power Automate can create multiple types of flows.
- Automated Flows are started when some event within a linked Connector occurs, causing the connector’s trigger to fire.
- Button Flows are designed to be initiated manually by a user from Power Automate, either the web client or the mobile application, and enable users to automate complex or repetitive tasks.
- Scheduled Flows use the Schedule trigger to start the flow on a recurring interval that is specified by the flow author.
- Approval Flows enable users to track the progress of one or more users approving a document or a process. This flow can span multiple users over an indefinite period and utilizes the Common Data Service to track the progress of the approval cycle.
- Business Process Flows are a specific type of process that guides a user through a series of steps to accomplish some business function. Business Process Flows work with Model-drive Power Apps and the Common Data Service and can span multiple records.
- UI Flows use Robotic Process Automation (RPA) to control a secondary application, either a web application or a Windows native application, and to perform actions that would normally require manual user interaction. UI Flows do not require the application being run to have a Connector, and thus extend the automation capabilities of the Power Platform to a broader reach of applications.
Ryan: How does Power Automate integrate with the rest of the Microsoft Power Platform?
Larry: Power Automate can be called by Canvas and Model-driven Power Apps to execute both simple and complex business processes, and can initiate a mobile toast notification in a Canvas App.
Power Automate can connect to Azure Data Lake and other data sources to transform and prepare data for analysis in Power BI. Power Automate can work natively with the Common Data Service (CDS), both to act on changes made to CDS data and to modify that data. Power Automate also integrates closely with CDS to provide ALM capabilities, to implement business process flows for Model-driven Power Apps, and to enable Flows that track an approval process.
Power Automate can apply a model from AI Builder to include artificial intelligence-based predictions within business processes. Users can expose flows created in Power Automate to Power Virtual Agents to enhance the capabilities of bots.
Ryan: How does someone choose when to use Power Automate versus CDS Workflow processes?
Larry: Frequently, users of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement applications face a choice between “classic” CDS workflow processes and the newer Power Automate’s flow capabilities. From a licensing standpoint there is no reason to choose one technology over the other because D365 licenses permit access use of Power Automate and the API request limits for the Power Platform apply to both workflows and flows.
Flows in Power Automate hold several advantages over “classic” CDS workflow processes. Whereas workflows are primarily restricted to acting on CDS data, flows natively support over 300 cloud data sources and services. Also, flows natively support looping over queries returning multiple records of results, and also supports parallel branches of execution and scheduled execution of processes. Power Automate features a modern designer for authoring processes and a user-friendly environment for debugging and viewing analytics for process execution.
When working with CDS data, workflows exhibit a slight edge in usability, performance and direct integration. CDS workflows work with both on-premise installation of Dynamics 365, as well as cloud instances of Power Apps or Dynamics 365, whereas Power Automate is focused on cloud services.
While Power Automate can utilize the On-premise data gateway, this does not provide supported access to on-premise Dynamics 365 data. Also, workflows can run synchronously and within the CDS application data transactions, whereas flows always execute asynchronously.
Ryan: How is Power Automate licensed?
Larry: Power Automate is licensed by both permission to author and execute flows and also by the number of resources utilized during a flow’s execution. It can be licensed either per user or by flow, providing a flexible means of scaling the application from an organization that only utilizes a few flows to automate business processed, and also to an organization that provides extensive flexibility to its knowledge workers.
Ryan: How much does Power Automate cost?
Larry: The user-based license of $15/month allows that user to create and execute an unlimited number of flows. The flow-based license of $500/month permits an individual flow instance to be run by any number of users within the organization. In both cases, the total number of requests is limited to an allocation limit attributed to the environment. This request limit ensures that the Power Platform application servers can continue to provide reasonable response times and performance across all users of the platform.
Ryan: What additional license is required for Dynamics 365 and Power Apps users to utilize Power Automate?
Larry: In most cases, there are no additional license fees associated with using Power Automate for Dynamics 365 and Power Apps users. Rights to Power Automate is included for licensed users of Power Apps or Dynamics 365 applications. The existing license includes full rights to create and manage flows in Power Automate, as long as the flows are related to the licensed Dynamics 365 or Power Apps application. Flow executions count toward the request limits of the existing Dynamics 365 or Power Apps license, and additional capacity can be added to account for any limits reach due to execution of the additional flows.
Ryan: How does Power Automate enhance the extensibility of Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement, Common Data Service (CDS) and PowerApps applications?
Larry: Power Automate brings many opportunities for integrating with external systems. Integrating with other services can certainly range in complexity, but it can also be as simple as receiving and processing a file with data to be imported, a task for which Power Automate is well suited. For example, using a file management connector, such as OneDrive, SharePoint, DropBox, Google Drive, or others, a Flow could be configured to trigger when a new file is dropped into a certain folder. Using the built-in workflow actions the flow could parse each row in the file, and write the data to for each row to multiple records in CDS. This is a task that the built-in D365 import feature cannot match.
Ryan: How can companies bring data together from different parts of the organization?
Larry: It is common for different parts of an organization to use varying platforms, such as when the sales team is using
Ryan: Could you use Power Automate to process data, for example, in email messages?
Larry: Yes. Imagine that you needed to process responses to emails, and update customer data, or even trigger a support case. If the email contents were free form, it would be difficult using Dynamics 365’s existing features to process this email. With Power Automate, you could take advantage of the MailParser connector. While the mailparser cloud service already provides some integration with Dynamics 365, it requires additional service costs and also may not provide the level flexibility needed. With Power Automate, you could configure a flow triggered to run when a new email arrives into your mailparser account, and use the processed contents from the email to update contacts, add users to a mailing list, or determine that a new service request needs to be created. Rather than the default of tying incoming emails in Dynamics to a record, complex business logic could be applied to automatically process the email.
Ryan: Could you do the same with text messaging?
Larry: Yes. One cloud service that provides SMS message services is Twilio, and Power Automate could be applied to provide a bridge between CDS and Twilio. With some simple CDS custom entities to track the SMS messages and the flexibility of Power Automate to communicate with the Twilio services, Crowe has developed solutions to both send and receive SMS messages and track them along with other activities in CDS or Dynamics applications.
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Crowe can tailor Microsoft Dynamics 365 to your business and industry needs. The Crowe team brings a combination of deep process, industry, and software expertise along with a proven framework for implementing Microsoft Dynamics 365. We work closely with your team to get a detailed understanding of your business and its needs, so Microsoft Dynamics 365 works just the way you need it to work.
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By Ryan Plourde, Crowe, a Microsoft Dynamics 365 Gold Partner
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