We are now entering the fourth industrial revolution, a period of rapid technological advancement that has the potential to dramatically alter the way we live, work, and interact with one another. The increased use of automation across all sectors, the adoption of cyber-physical systems that use IoT technologies and the proliferation of Artificial intelligence promises to revolutionise the business world in ways never seen.
Businesses that fail to innovate over the coming years may fall behind and find themselves struggling to compete with leaner, more efficient companies that embrace innovative technologies. For small and medium-sized businesses the magnitude of the change required may seem daunting, however, automation is now a fundamental part of the business IT landscape and features heavily in many of the most up to date software platforms so adopting smart technologies is much easier than you may think.
For more proactive businesses there’s Microsoft’s Power Platform, a powerful group of products from Microsoft with automation at their core, that let businesses automate processes, extract insights from data, build tailored apps for specific purposes and harness the power of AI for automated communication. Microsoft Power Platform is comprised of 4 products, let’s explore each of these in more detail.
Power BI is a data visualisation platform that can be used to bring together and make sense of data held in a wide variety of locations. Available as a desktop application or as a cloud-hosted service, Power BI features a range of tools that can help you draw insight from your data and produce immersive, visually stunning reports and dashboards. Being able to draw insight from vast quantities of data will give your business an edge when it comes to forecasting, planning for ‘what if’ scenarios and driving relentless improvements by paying close attention to the most insightful KPIs (key performance indicators).
Power BI can empower decision-makers at any level of your business to make informed decisions data-derived intelligence. Power BI also takes away much of the legwork when it comes to reporting by automating the reporting process. Rest APIs allow administrative tasks such as refreshing a data set to be automated, saving time and staff resources. Also, data classification features let you maintain tight control of your most sensitive data to ensure compliance and prevent data loss.
Power Apps is a ‘platform-as-a-service’ offering from Microsoft that gives the user the ability to create business applications without the need for software development expertise. Apps can be created to modernise and automate outdated manual processes that eat into your time.
You can create ‘canvas driven’ applications uniquely designed for specific processes and job roles; you might want to create an app where employees can file expense reports or provide a linear form for customer feedback for example.
Alternatively, create ‘model-driven’ applications that start with your existing data and business processes. More complex and less customisable than canvas apps, model-driven apps are better for situations that require an end-to-end solution and the application of ‘business logic.’ For example, a customer support ticket could be created via a canvas app, but then a Model app would be needed to route this data to the relevant people, update the status of the ticket as the support request is handled and so on.
Apps created through Power Apps are mostly intended for internal use, but you can also embed apps within your website and give external users access to your data. Enhance your web visitor experience with the addition of data-driven model apps in the form of attractive dashboards and charts which will be sure to impress visitors to your site.
Power Automate is a code-free platform that empowers users to implement business process automation to take the strain out of workflow management. Previously known as ‘Microsoft flow,’ Power Automate provides pre-assembled templates and connectors which can be used to link various sources of data and initiate actions when certain inputs occur.
One of the most helpful applications of Power Automate is the transfer of data from one application to another in situations which would otherwise require you to move data manually or migrate between multiple applications in order to access the data you need. For example, you could set up a workflow that automatically sends all email attachments to a SharePoint folder.
Power automate is also useful for automating the notifications or information-sharing process. For example, you could set up a flow that sends an update via Outlook to all members of a SharePoint site whenever a document library is added to, or a specific SharePoint list is updated. A great way to keep project teams up to date with any developments.
Power Automate can also connect to over 200 external services. Establish automatic push notifications when someone tweets about your company for example, with flows that connect with your social media accounts.
Power Virtual Agents
A relatively new addition to Microsoft’s power platform, Power Virtual Agents lets users create AI-driven Chatbots in an intuitive, no-code environment. Chatbots can be used as a virtual point-of-contact for customers and employees alike. For example, they can be integrated into your website to help existing customers with simple service issues and allow your customer service team to focus on more challenging requests. Alternatively, you could use it within your organisation to guide new employees through the initiation process.
Power Virtual agents use artificial intelligence to generate questions based on perceived intentions, and integration within the ‘Power Family’(specifically with Power Automate) allows actions to be initiated on other platforms based on data gathered by the chatbot.
Power Virtual agents are not a replacement for human-to-human interaction, instead, they can be used to supplement your team and handle the easier stuff while your employees focus on the more valuable interactions.
Each of the products contained within the ‘Power Platform’ umbrella term can be acquired on its own but the real potential lies in embracing all four of these products in order to truly drive end-to-end business process automation.
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