What is Microsoft automation and Power Automate?
How businesses use Microsoft Flow (now Power Automate) and what the platform can do are big questions in the new age of flexible working. To start. Power Automate is Microsoft’s cloud-based, core business process automation tool that fully integrates with Microsoft 365 and other Microsoft products (such as Power Apps and Power BI), along with over 100 external applications. It allows organisations to rapidly build and deploy automated, button, scheduled or business process workflows without any coding requirements, utilising data from both cloud and on-premises sources. Until recently, Power Automate was known as Microsoft Flow.
What is workflow automation in Microsoft 365?
Workflow automation in Microsoft 365 using Power Automate enables businesses large and small to leverage the productivity, efficiency, visibility and continuity benefits of cloud-based workflows. It is used to help businesses save time, do more with less and fine-tune more accurate and data-rich processes, which in turn delivers tangible cost and time savings that are reinvested in business improvement and strategic tasks. Workflows can be rules based with set triggers and outcomes, or use AI or BI to manage more convoluted data sources and tasks – such as analysing social media feeds for response flags or identifying urgent machine maintenance.
Power Automate is primarily used to take routine, repetitive, labour intensive or complex tasks (that must be completed accurately) away from teams that could be using their time and skills more effectively, and adding greater value to the organisation. Think of workflows as a means of redistributing resource to where most impact can be made – repetitive tasks for machines, relationship building and holistic analysis with people.
How businesses use Microsoft Flow (now Power Automate)
Businesses use hundreds of templated workflows in Power Automate to streamline operations, enhance productivity, and transform collaboration and effectiveness. Here are several common, clever, and impactful examples of how businesses use Microsoft Flow (now Power Automate) on a daily basis.
Examples of how business use Microsoft flow or Power Automate:
New document area uploads: When a document is uploaded and meets certain trigger rules, it can be added to certain areas of SharePoint – for example onboarding packs are automatically added to “Account Management” folders, or product demo videos to “Sales Pack” folders. This saves time manually adding or the user searching afresh every time a document is needed.
Approved user file availability: Files are only made visible in SharePoint, OneDrive or for workflow inclusion to certain users based on seniority, job title or team membership rules. So long as permissions and user data is watertight, controlling governance of confidential data is quick and secure – while user areas aren’t cluttered with irrelevant information.
Project handovers: When a project sprint is completed, relevant users will be notified with a link to all handover documentation required to make a rapid, informed start on the next phase of work. This gives back time spent on admin and minimises the opportunity for errors or misdirection.
Data capture: Data captured on tablets at events or web forms, for example, is automatically written to a list in SharePoint, OneDrive or Dynamics 365. Tailored emails are sent based on record status, and AI scans responses to determine priority salesperson follow-ups.
Saving mail attachments: Once filtered using external email threat detection software, attachments are saved to corresponding client, project or category folders in OneDrive. Sifting through emails or depending on a colleague saving documentation to a logical area on the server in good time become worries of the past.
Negative feedback management: AI scans replies and posts on company social media feeds, collates any negative feedback as defined by rules, notifies social media managers and if appropriate, publishes a generic response. This accelerates brand management and customer care, allowing management to “nip in the bud”, so to speak, and thus saving significant time rectifying a negative situation.
Send important documentation: When certain triggers are met – such as a payment not being received by a set date, or a job acceptance link being clicked – an automated email will be sent with a reminder and any essential documentation like an invoice or induction paperwork. Email analytics notify teams who has yet to respond, allowing time to be used more effectively on higher value tasks.
Approvals sign off: Approvals and paperwork are sent when a complex criterion is met – which may include variables such as deal size, business type, credit score, deposit amount, contractual obligations, local legislation and more. Instead of examining approvals with a fine-toothed comb, salespeople and management can focus on fostering relationships and building the pipeline – not repetitive, labour-intensive tasks.
Training workflows: Employees following a SharePoint online training programme will be presented with different documentation depending on response or scores from previous sessions. Management are notified when certain triggers are hit – such as failing on business-critical assessments or repeatedly skipping certain questions – to engage one-on-one with those that need the most support, quickly.
Maintenance recommendations: When linked to BI and integrated with wider business systems, engineers (for example) can be presented with automated recommendations based on error logs. This form of digital record keeping can help streamline and prioritise maintenance while saving engineers time and boosting operational performance.
Although Power Automate sells itself (and rightly so) on its “no coding experience required” mantra, there is flexibility to build and code your own workflows if necessary. Similarly, custom connectors, data sources and application integrations can be coded too, which we discuss in more detail later in this guide.
Does Power Automate come with Microsoft 365?
Yes and no. The cost of Power Automate is included in certain Microsoft 365 packages but is available on a pay per user/month basis for any other business, with full integration to the Microsoft 365 environment. How businesses use Microsoft Flow influences cost – for example, only permitting certain staff to use workflows thereby limiting users.
What benefits do you get with Microsoft Flow, now Power Automate?
Microsoft Flow, now called Power Automate, considerably minimises (if not entirely lifts) the burden of complex or repetitive manual tasks. As a result, your people spend their time doing what they’re best at, with personnel resource directed to where most value can be added. Machines – in this case cloud-based workflows – pick up the legwork, releasing teams to focus on customer delivery and business improvement. How businesses use Microsoft Flow or Power Automate varies, but you can expect the following benefits:
- Continuity > The wheels continue to turn when disruption hits
- Efficiency > Do more with less effort
- Productivity > Work at full performance and capacity
- Scalability > Quickly adapt with agile automation
- Security > Use a cloud platform with data loss prevention
- Pipeline building > Focus attention on growth
- Employee engagement > Build stronger teams and advocates
Microsoft Flow and Power Automate examples
Is Microsoft 365 automation cloud computing?
Power Automate, the platform in which automation and workflows are built and run, is a cloud-based solution. Deploying IT infrastructure in the cloud improves agility, security, and integration capabilities and makes high-performing business solutions rapidly accessible anywhere, anytime. Needing just a web browser and an email to use and with by-user subscriptions, Power Automate means that the most powerful, off-the-shelf business process automation and productivity tool is available to organisations large and small.
Power Automate also integrates with over 100 other cloud-based or SaaS applications and systems (in addition to Microsoft 365 apps) using free and premium “connectors”, which are, in essence, integration plugins that allow for cross-application connectivity without coding.
Despite being a cloud solution, Power Automate or Microsoft Flow will integrate with on-premises IT infrastructure to a limited extent –delivering more than enough functionality for most companies. In short, on-premises data sources such as servers and ERPs can be accessed via Microsoft’s “on-premises data gateway”. This acts a bridge for the quick and secure transfer of data between your on-premises storage and Microsoft cloud services such as Power Automate, but also including Power BI, PowerApps and Azure Analysis Services.
How secure are workflows in Microsoft 365?
Microsoft is a world leader in business IT and technology, so organisations can rest assured that the Power Automate platform is reinforced with advanced cybersecurity to protect against data theft, systems compromises and downtime. To further secure and govern the platform environment from within, Microsoft recommends instating the following layers of security:
- Data privileges – users should only have access to data that they absolutely need
- Network access control – govern how connections are established when users are connected to a network and inspect inbound and outbound network traffic
- Location–based conditional access – Azure Active Directory Conditional Access policies can restrict what network addresses have access to Power Automate
- Data leakage – configure Data Loss Prevention policies that allow admins to segment “connectors” into business/non business data
- Anomaly detection – use platform management connections to analyse activity
Although the platform itself is robust and its core functional infrastructure is locked down, the inherent security risk lies in how Power Automate is accessed. Being cloud-based, users access Power Automate and deploy the workflows that are so fundamentally and critically engrained with business productivity and continuity via the internet, typically a web browser. This means that internet-based threats pose huge cyber and infosecurity risk to Power Automate workflows (and the applications they’re connected to).
Before implementing a business process automation strategy using Microsoft Flow or Power Automate, organisations should comprehensively audit their digital perimeters. In particular, you should check that antivirus, firewalls, web content filtering and email filtering are in place and configured appropriately for advancing threats and how you intend to use Power Automate. Also consider network segmentation for accessing Microsoft services.
If you need assistance getting started, book a security audit with Starcom, which can be undertaken remotely to meet social distancing obligations.
Can Power Automate send emails and text messages?
Yes, Microsoft Power Automate can send emails and text messages with various triggers and response options. As with other workflows, email and SMS actions are categorised under “automated”, “button”, “scheduled”, “business processes” and a wide range of templates are available for immediate use. Here are just a few examples of Power Automate email workflows:
- Send an email or documentation when a response criterion is met, i.e. acceptance of a job offer
- Send approvals when an action is trigger, i.e. a signature is uploaded or certain budget confirmed
- Send an email in response to data alerts or form submissions
- Send an email in response to certain contacts or organisations
- Send emails on a fixed schedule to audiences that meet certain triggers
Similar workflow templates are available for email and text messages with the inclusion of relevant supplements, such as sending a text to a contact if you’re late to a meeting, or when you have an unread email from a specific manager.
Can Power Automate integrate with ERP?
Microsoft Power Automate can integrate with certain ERPs using a supported connector or by creating a custom connector. Connectors are Power Automate’s way of enabling external software to communicate with Microsoft apps and workflows built in Power Automate and when using a supported connector, allow for integration without any coding. Dynamics 365 and SAP ERP are supported currently, but Microsoft is continually adding to its bank of over 100 supported connectors. You can view the latest list here.
If a business is using a different ERP, they can still integrate with Power Automate thanks to the Commercient connector. Commercient easily and securely links customers and orders in ERP accounting software to workflows in Power Automate, and works with popular systems from SYSPRO, Sage and Epicor. Alternatively, if development skills are available in an organisation, it may be possible to code a custom connector. This is the case for Sage200cloud, which when connected to a Microsoft 365 account and Azure Active Directory will integrate with Power Automate, albeit in a less seamless but equally effective way. How businesses use Microsoft Flow, now Power Automate, will be heavily shaped by existing business-critical IT infrastructure.
If your business would like to explore how to enhance productivity with Microsoft 365, contact Starcom on 0844 579 0800 or click here to leave a message. Starcom is a Microsoft Gold Partner and can setup, configure and manage your Microsoft 365 environment. We can recommend a trusted third party to support your Power Automate functions.