Power Platform continues to grow and since we last wrote about it, newcomer Power Virtual Agents has been introduced and Microsoft Flow has been rebranded to Power Automate. This blog post provides an introduction to the various Power services, this time with a few new services.
Today, Power Platform consists of the four major Power services: Power BI, Power Apps, Power Automate and Power Virtual Agents. We also have other elements that connect everything. Continue reading to get an understanding of how everything works together!
Why Power Platform?
Let’s start with a few words on why to use Power Platform. First, Power Platform lets you simply and without code create new, scalable and role-based solutions. You can start really small and easy with just Office 365 and Canvas Apps to build a more automated work routine. It allows you to gather information from different sources in one place, analyze and create apps based on your business data.
Larger business processes can also be built for support, either by starting from a Dynamics app or building completely proprietary apps without Dynamics, which can then be based on Common Data Service but without a Dynamics foundation.
You can expand using traditional code and other services if needed. Your imagination is the only limit. Of course, in some cases license models can complicate things, but the possibilities are many, and if you play your cards right, profits can prove substantial.
Get to know the Power family
The different parts of Power Platform can be used not only independently but also together, for example Power BI can be used to get reports in apps and Power Automate to create logic for apps or for the chatbots you’ve built with Power Virtual Agents. The possibilities are many, and it becomes especially powerful when the different services are combined.
Visualize with Power BI
Collect data and then have it presented in an easily accessible and attractive way. Build reports that can be used independently or integrated with other solutions. Your apps can be expanded with Power BI to be able to visualize data in a graphically appealing way. An image often says more than words, and it can be easier to absorb visualizations quickly than to look at information in a traditional list format.
Appify with Power Apps
Power Apps is the part of the Power Platform where we create apps. There are three different app types: Canvas Apps, Model-Driven Apps and Portals.
If you have previously worked with Microsoft CRM systems, you will recognize the app type Model-Driven Apps. This is simply the latest interface to what was previously called Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Everyone who runs Dynamics, and who has chosen to use the cloud, works in Model-Driven Apps and Power Apps, because Microsoft Dynamics CRM are now apps built on Power Platform and are called Dynamics Sales, Dynamics Customer Service, etc.
The ready-made apps from Microsoft are called First-Party Apps. You also have the opportunity to create your own Model-Driven Apps and select the entities and other artifacts you want to include in your app. They are usually run in browsers but can also be run via mobile.
Canvas Apps are often described as a mix between Excel and PowerPoint. They have no previous equivalent the way Model-Driven Apps has. They say that anyone can build apps in this low-code way. If you come from the model-driven world, I can say there is a small but existing threshold to get started. Take a look at my blog posts about Canvas Apps, where I describe in a series of three blog posts how I went from the model-driven world to the Canvas world.
In Power Apps Studio, you “paint” your interface on a blank canvas and then connect Excel-like formulas to your various components. Canvas Apps are often used to support a specific task, such as displaying business intelligence or to be able to quickly and easily enter certain information. Unlike Model-Driven Apps, which have Common Data Service in the background and the data model set when you create your app, with Canvas Apps you can start from the interface, paint it and add the data source afterwards. Use one of the 300+ ready-made connectors or create your own Custom Connector that can be used to connect to your particular data source.
The third type of app is Portals. Portals are used in cases where you want people outside your company to be able to access your information. It can, for example, be a My Pages functionality, a place where people outside your organization can access and also update specified information.
Automate with Power Automate
With Power Automate, you can set up automations. What we previously knew as Microsoft Flow now exists as Power Automate. The concept of Flow remains, and you now create flows using Power Automate. Power Automate is divided into what can be called traditional flows, business process flows and UI Flows. The traditional flows are what we previously called Microsoft Flow, and we can use it for different types of automations. Manual or scheduled, for example, you can trigger logic that sends e-mails, retrieves information from various sources, updates information in your sales support or other applications.
UI Flows is the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) part of Power Platform and can be used in cases where you have old applications that lack APIs and you want to automate keystrokes. It allows automated keystrokes to be a part of your automated flows. Recently, during the May 19 Microsoft Build conference, it was announced that Microsoft acquired Softomotive. This means that we will now have a “Power Automated Desktop,” which is said to be reminiscent of the way we have a Power BI Desktop. Very interesting! And it has been stated that UI Flows would not be replaced but rather supplemented. The acquisition definitely strengthens Microsoft’s existing RPA offering.
Business process flows are used in Model-Driven Apps and can, for example, provide support for the order in which information is to be entered, in which order and they can show where in a process you are.
Chat with Power Virtual Agents
Here is the great new member of the Power family. It’s really easy to get started and build chatbots without needing traditional development. Configure and test a chatbot in Virtual Agent Studio and then let it be the first step in, for example, support for your customer base. Configure it to switch to a real person who takes over the case when your chatbot no longer knows the answers to the questions asked of it. Your chatbot can also be further developed with the Microsoft Bot Framework. As usual, this was released in connection with a Microsoft event, in this case at Microsoft Ignite in fall 2019. What better way to jump in than to start looking at how to use new features right away? Check out my blog post where I summarize how it works.
Get smart functionality with AI Builder
With the help of AI Builder, you can bring in smart functions for your apps and feeds. There are several different types of models to choose from. With Object Detection, you can create apps with object recognition. With Prediction, you can analyze yes/no patterns in data. Based on history, the model can predict what will happen in the future. Create and train an AI model that then can be used in apps and feeds.
Power Platform also comes with a number of built-in models that you can start with. These are already created and trained by Microsoft. Examples of this are Business Card Reader, Text recognition and Sentiment analysis, the latter can be used to analyze texts and classify as neutral, positive or negative, for example. Something that could be used to quickly and easily analyze and categorize feedback from customers, for example.
Connect to the outside world with Data Connectors
Here we have something really powerful, where the door is opened for all sorts of exchange of information. Data Connectors are used to connect to various data sources. They are described as a proxy or wrapper for an API and they enable the service behind a particular API to collaborate with Power Automate, Power Apps and Azure Logic Apps.
When you create apps and set up feeds, you have access to the 300+ connectors that are already set up. If you do not have a connector, you have the opportunity to create something called a Custom Connector. With this, you can define how you should connect to a specific API and can then use your Custom Connector in your apps and feeds.
CDS as in service and CDM as in unified data model
Common Data Service is a service that allows you to store information in the cloud. You get a common structure for your data, you can collect data from different sources and can then use that data as a basis for your apps and feeds.
I previously mentioned that those of us who come from the Microsoft Dynamics CRM world recognize ourselves in Model-Driven Apps. We also recognize ourselves in CDS. Previously, it was called xRM, and you created entity models that would mimic customers’ operations and form the basis for solutions. You still have all this. The term xRM is rarely heard nowadays, but in the Common Data Service you have the xRM parts, where you create your own entities. You also see here other parts we recognize, such as the model for authorization control. The CDS is also the backend for the Dynamics apps and for your own Model-Driven Apps that you create.
Microsoft has described that it saw that its various Dynamics products had some common denominators. Both Dynamics FnO and Dynamics CRM had, for example, an Account. Microsoft started looking at a common model to make it easier both to talk about the products but also for integration between the products. This resulted in a common model, Common Data Model, which became part of the Common Data Service.
The image below is from Maker Portal, where you can see the entities in the Common Data Service under Data and Entities, but note that it is NOT best practice to change anything here. If you want to change something, you should do it in solutions.