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InfoQ Homepage News Microsoft Rebrands Flow Service to Power Automate, Adds Robotic Process Automation Capabilities

Microsoft Rebrands Flow Service to Power Automate, Adds Robotic Process Automation Capabilities

At the recent Ignite conference, Microsoft announced changes to Microsoft Flow, its cloud-based automation service. The service has been re-branded to Power Automate, which better aligns to other Power Platform services including Power Apps, Power Bi and a new bot service called Power Virtual Agents. Beyond alignment with other Power Platform services, Microsoft has expanded on the capabilities of the traditional Microsoft Flow service by providing Robotic Process Automation (RPA) capabilities, in preview. The existing functionality found in Microsoft Flow still exists in Power Automate as makers will still build flows in the Power Automate service.

Microsoft Flow first reached General Availability (GA) in October 2016 and since this time Microsoft has made several investments in the service including API connectors. Flow makers now have over 300 connectors available to them when they orchestrate business processes across Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and on-premises offerings.

During this timeframe, Microsoft has discovered that while many organizations are taking advantage of the latest SaaS applications and APIs that are available, there are still a lot of use cases that involve automating processes across legacy systems. Charles Lamanna, corporate vice president at Microsoft, explains:

The enterprise application landscape is overrun with a mix of legacy applications and modern services, some running on-premises and others in the cloud. Organizations looking to scale often have multiple systems that don’t talk to each other, which creates a disconnect between legacy and modern applications and services. In an increasingly connected world, deep automation capabilities allow customers to do more with less across their business. Over the past year, we’ve seen increased interest from customers to optimize processes to deliver faster and higher-value results with little to no added cost, leveraging everyone from IT Pros and developers to end-users, to build apps and services that are scalable and highly secure across their organization.

The RPA functionality, known within Power Automate as UI Flows, share the same maker experience as the flow maker experience and can be called from a flow. A recorder experience is available that allows a maker to record a sequence of steps that they would like automated. There are two modes that UI Flows work within: recording automation against a desktop or web app. Regardless of the type of application, data inputs can be passed to the UI Flow and outputs from the UI Flow can be returned to the calling flow. Since data can be passed back and forth from the traditional flow, makers can orchestrate business processes across the 300 existing systems that are supported by Power Automate and enrich those automations with legacy app integration using UI Flows.

Image source: in-product screenshot

Daniel Laskewitz, a power platform lead at Sogeti and Microsoft MVP, is excited about the new UI Flow capabilities and offers some advice:

It’s exciting to see that Microsoft is entering the RPA market. It makes an excellent addition to all the 300+ connectors that are already available.

However, Laskewitz has some cautionary advice on how customers should think about the new service:

It is important that people use the new UI Flow service in the right way. To me, RPA should be a last resort. If you can automate using a connector, make sure to do that. Nonetheless, it’s a great alternative for automating legacy software, where existing connectors are not available.

Power Automate is built upon Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure and leverages Azure AI services including Form Recognizer. In addition, an on-premises data gateway is used to initiate the RPA recorded steps on a desktop or server that can run as infrastructure in the public cloud or within an organization’s local network.

Organizations looking to explore UI Flows in Power Automate can sign up for a free trial here.

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