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In 2019, Schlumberger, the world’s largest energy service company, chose Microsoft Power Platform to secure a competitive advantage. The company opted for Microsoft Power BI (Business Intelligence) services to display cumulative stats for the ActiveEurope campaign and then search for the data that would enhance the organization’s decision-making. Power BI allowed Schlumberger to gather quality data, transform it into actionable and reliable insights and ensure transparent communication within the organization.
In this article, we will discuss how Microsoft Power Platform can become a driver of transformation in your company, assisting your team members and fostering a culture of innovation.
What is Microsoft Power Platform?
Power Platform is a suite of point-and-click tools designed to build custom applications, create graphical representations of data and set up automated workflows. Anyone with a basic knowledge of Microsoft 365 (and Microsoft Office in particular) can create a custom business solution.
Microsoft Power Platform enables users to complete three major data-related tasks:
- Analyze (acquire new knowledge from data)
- Act (stimulate new processes via Power Platform)
- Automate (reduce time spent on manual tasks and continuously update new apps)
Microsoft Power Platform also provides a rich set of resources and community programs supporting users at all stages of low code development.
Microsoft Power Platform’s products
Today, Power Platform empowers nearly 16 million active users monthly worldwide. And, it assists users with a wide range of tasks. In 2021, Gartner recognized Microsoft as a leader in the Magic Quadrant for enterprise low code application platform reports. Microsoft also achieved the status of Magic Quadrant Leader in analytics and business intelligence platforms in the same year. But, the platform’s accomplishments didn’t stop there. According to Forrester Wave, Microsoft Power Automate doubled down on its investments in the robotic process automation (RPA) space in 2021. That’s why Microsoft Power Automate has been recognized as a Leader in The Forrester Wave™: Robotic Process Automation, Q1 2021. Microsoft has been a vendor with the highest ratings in research publications on analytics and business intelligence fourteen consecutive times.
Power Platform comprises four key products: Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI, and Power Virtual Agents.
- Power Apps serves as an environment for low code development with a specific focus on the user’s goals. According to Forrester, an average improvement in line-of-business employee productivity has reached 3.2 saved hours per week in organizations that use Power Apps.
If we look at the technicalities, Power Apps enables non-professional developers to build three types of apps. The first one refers to canvas apps, as users work with prebuilt templates and rely on the drag-and-drop design. The second type is all about model-driven apps. They are built automatically based on a specific Dataverse model, including views, forms, charts, dashboards, etc. This approach of developing low code solutions is familiar to everyone who has worked with Dynamics 365 apps. Portals are the third type of apps available in the Power Apps environment. They allow businesses to create external-facing websites and customize them with pages, layout and content. Portal solutions can be ready in mere days.
Below is an example of an environment, health and safety (EHS) governance canvas app that showcases Power Apps’ implementation for on-side incident management.Figure 1. An example of a EHS governance app created with the help of Power Apps
In this case, the user can:
- set the title, type, and the date of the incident
- assign the incident to a chosen team member
- indicate the incident’s description
- add attachments
- indicate the department’s name
- filter incidents by type
If your team has doubts about the technical nuances of available low code solutions, it can delegate the responsibility to professional developers and extend app capabilities with Azure Functions.
- Power Automate allows your team to concentrate on the most urgent processes while streamlining and scaling down repetitive tasks. There is no need to waste hours on drafting similar emails for weekly updates or scanning through approvals repeatedly. You can use low code, drag-and-drop tools and hundreds of pre-built connectors that easily automate repetitive tasks in this environment. What’s more, Power Automate for desktop broadens your options for automating processes so you can perform it directly on a desktop. Users can also optimize repetitive tasks with legacy applications.
Below is an example of Power Automate cloud flows that allow you to automate workflows between modern (API) cloud-based services.Figure 2. An example of cloud flows that enable digital process automation
Additionally, there are options for recording and visualizing end-to-end processes with a process advisor. You can also use AI Builder to automate the processing of forms and approvals, and detect text or images. Enhancing workflows with AI can substantially boost your business’ efficiency. Power Automate’s tools are available in desktop, web and mobile versions.
- Power BI. You can make confident decisions using up-to-the-minute analytics with Power BI. It has a built-in governance system that empowers teams to proactively use data for enhanced decision-making. Furthermore, users can discover and share insights with hundreds of data visualization tools, built-in AI capabilities, solid Excel integration systems, and pre-built and custom data connectors. For example, a Power BI dashboard could replace a standard meeting that discusses sales data, progress against goals or employee performance.
Here, you can see an illustration of Microsoft Power BI’s responsiveness.Figure 3. An example of Microsoft Power BI’s responsiveness
Power BI opens up previously hidden insights for specialists across an organization, while it also prioritizes your business’ security. As cyber security risks loom on the horizon, Power BI also eliminates the possibility of your data being inappropriately used by a third party. Its industry-leading data security capacities, particularly sensitivity labeling, end-to-end encryption and real-time access monitoring, are at your service.
Discover a tailored BI solution for effective decision-making of one of the world’s leading insurance technology platforms. [Success story]
- Power Virtual Agents empowers users to easily create chatbots. There is no need to delegate responsibilities to data scientists or developers. No coding is required. As a powerful instrument for transforming your company’s communication, Power Virtual Agents can assist your team in multiple purposes, starting from answering simple questions to having complex conversations with chatbots.
Below, you will find an example of a test bot created in the Power Virtual Agents environment.Figure 4. An illustration of how you can test a chatbot in Power Virtual Agents
Your team can quickly create and test conversational bots using automation, AI, and a low code graphical interface. In addition, your team can interact with customers and employees in multiple languages within different channels suitable for Power Virtual Agents deployment, including websites, mobile apps, Facebook, Microsoft Teams, or any other channel supported by the Azure Bot Framework. Security is a top priority in this solution, so your team can use central administration, built-in security roles and simple management tools to safeguard data. Track key performance indicators and use natural language processing to improve your bots for the long haul.
Power Platform provides multiple opportunities to quickly and easily create new business solutions that suit your company’s needs.
Microsoft Power Platform’s features
In addition to the four major components of Microsoft Power Platform, users can deploy three additional features to unleash the hidden potential of Power Platform. These are:
- AI Builder empowers users and developers to implement new AI capacities into workflows and apps. As a comprehensive solution, it allows your team to predict potential business outcomes and discover new opportunities without writing a single line of code.
- Microsoft Dataverse is a platform for storing, consolidating, displaying and analyzing data where it is stored within a set of tables. As a data service and app platform, Microsoft Dataverse allows the integration of data into business applications via a common data model. Here, your team can adjust existing tables within the common data model or create a completely new table that would meet a specific project’s needs.
- Connectors make it possible for your team to ensure seamless integration among apps, data and devices in the cloud. They function as figurative bridges when commands travel back and forth to specific information. Salesforce, Office 365, Twitter, Dropbox, or Google services are the most widely used connectors.
Explore the benefits of Microsoft 365 for unleashing the hidden potential of your business. [Discover more about Microsoft 365]
Your team can expand the scope of Microsoft Power Platform’s capacities and build more sophisticated solutions for future projects using connectors, AI builder, and/or Microsoft Dataverse.
Short guide to data connectors
The core advantage of Microsoft Power Platform is in its flexibility to connect data across many platforms. That’s why components of Power Platform cannot function without connectors, which are bridges that allow data to travel from its source to your app or workflow. Using connectors, your team can add functionality to any available business solution.
To clearly understand how you can deploy various types of connectors, it is crucial to know the difference between data sources. You’re likely to work with two major data sources – tabular data and function-based data.
Tabular data is presented and structured in a table format. Power Apps can use galleries and forms to display this data type. Likewise, it can connect to the data source and create, edit, and delete its data. Typical sources that rely on tabular data are Microsoft Dataverse, SharePoint and SQL Server.
Meanwhile, function-based data sources primarily use functions to act on the data available. The difference between function-based data sources and tabular data sources lies in functionality’s scope. Sources that rely on functions offer more extensive action, such as sending an email, updating permissions, or creating a calendar event. Their variety encompasses Office 365 Users, Project Online, and Azure Blob Storage.
Connecting to different data sources can strengthen the functionality of your business solutions and help cohesively integrate them into the company’s operations.
Connectors ensure input and output between the data source and your app, workflow or dashboard. Microsoft Power Platform provides access to more than 275 connectors for common purposes. But, the set of platforms can also use premium connectors for more sophisticated tasks. If SharePoint, Outlook, and YouTube refer to the most widely used common connectors, then SQL Server, Survey Monkey, and Mail Chimp are deployed for more advanced projects.
What should your team do if the connectors provided by Microsoft aren’t suitable for your data source?
In this case, you can build a custom connector that will meet the needs of your unique project. As a connectors’ major function is to send data back and forth across APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) and to integrate functions into Power Apps or Power Automate, your team can use a custom API to suit a particular connector. One of the greatest advantages of using a custom connector is its flexibility, because your team can deploy this type of connector in different platforms, including Power Apps, Power Automate and Azure Logic Apps.
Triggers and actions
After choosing a data source and a connector, you can use two operations to drive data-oriented business operations.
The first one refers to a trigger. Used only in Power Automate, its major function is to manage workflows in your organization. You can opt for a trigger’s different functionalities – starting from time-based workflows to their on-off action counterparts, as it’s up to you to decide what triggers will automate. In this way, you can control workflows and set up specific tasks that should be accomplished in day-to-day operations.
Action is the second operation related to data processing in Power Automate and Power Apps. Propelled by the user or the trigger, it can utilize a chosen function to connect with the data source. For example, action will send an email in your workflow or create a new line in a data source.
Basic knowledge of triggers and actions is a foundation for developing tailored software solutions in the Power Platform.
Data loss prevention policies
Data is probably one of the most valuable assets your company has at its disposal. On one hand, the capacity to build apps and drive automation is likely to be an empowering opportunity for business growth. On the other hand, collaborating with untrustworthy partners can result in data leakage. If data security is not effective, services and audiences that would previously be denied access to information could gain access and use it for their own purposes and this unintentional exposure of data could seriously harm your reputation.
Power Platform empowers your business to avoid this scenario. You can create data loss prevention (DLP) policies that highlight the challenges your organization faces. Thus, your company can strike the right balance between effectiveness and cyber security.
Regarding tenant-level policies, you can opt for a limited number of environments and exclude those that don’t suit your security needs. It’s also possible to restrict the use of connectors that can potentially be harmful to your company’s data ecosystem. Users can choose among three groups of connectors: business, non-business and blocked. You can combine connectors, but only if they belong to the same group.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can access information about connectors in the Microsoft Power Platform’s admin center.
A solemn focus on security is critical to Power Platform solutions. The first step for setting security is to assign roles, teams and business units. After creating a user, you will associate it with a specific business unit and then assign security roles. You can also add security roles to teams, so that they become team members. Combine directly assigned security roles with those of any team to ensure a high level of security and share records on a one-to-one basis within the team. You can also rely on a tree-like business units hierarchy that allows you to tailor security roles for the specific needs of the user.
Focus your attention where it’s needed most
Whether referring to automating repetitive tasks, creating data visualization tools or developing conversational bots, Microsoft Power Platform can seamlessly serve your business. And consequently, your team can intently focus on the processes of key importance rather than getting stuck on counter-productive tasks.
Discover more about Microsoft Power Platform and its functionality with our experts. Contact us.
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