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  • Ronan O'Ceallachain

Thoughts on Power Automate

In May 2020, Microsoft announced the acquisition of Softomotive, a leading provider of Robotic Process Automation solutions and the creator of Win Automation. This move comes on the back of Microsoft’s recently launched Power Automate platform. According to Mircrosoft’s press release;

“by bringing Softomotive’s desktop automation together with the existing Microsoft Power Automate capabilities, at uniquely affordable pricing, Microsoft is further democratizing RPA and enabling everyone to create bots to automate manual business processes.”

According to the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Robotic Process Automation, Softomotive is a mid- table runner, leading the way is the common trio of UI Path, Blue Prism and Automation Anywhere. By combining their own Power Automate with Softomotive’s Win Automation and ProcessRobot, where does this leave Microsoft in the RPA field? And how does their offering compare with their competitors?

We asked The Eclair Group’s RPA developer, Stephen Connolly, to do a deep dive into Power Automate to compare it with other vendors and give his own views on how it stacks up.

First impressions?

SC: “My initial observation is that Power Automate is a web-based platform unlike Blue Prism or UiPath which are native apps installed on PCs. This makes sense as the product is aimed at “Citizen Developers” in comparison to other vendors and this allows the users to play around without having to install any new application.

How does it integrate with other software?

SC: “Well, the next thing that grabbed my attention was the huge array of Connections that Power Automate offers – it’s a long list. These connectors allow integrations to lots of recognisable services, including Microsoft Specific applications, Internet of Things links, Workflow Applications and Cognitive Automation capabilities.

Does it give you any features to assist automation development?

SC: “Power Automate has a whole bunch of templates that it offers out of the box which are easy to set up – these really helped me understand the entire offering. The templates are applicable to both personal and business-wide use, such as helping the sales team with weekly emails of new opportunities entered into Salesforce or helping DevOps by using forms to log a bug. And you can easily notify your team of events, like informing your marketing team of Twitter mentions by collating them in Google Sheets and Slack.”

Did you automate any processes yourself to test how easy it is to use?

SC: “I was able to create 2 flows in a matter of minutes which are useful. The first one linked Microsoft Forms, Email and Sharepoint. The idea is that someone fills in a custom-made form with details and when submitted, an email is automatically sent, and a new record created on a Sharepoint list. Although not a hugely impressive task, I can think of plenty of use cases in RPA processes I have built in the past where this could have been the kick-off point instead of an Excel Input file.

The second flow was more marketing orientated, designed to make social media updates more efficient. I set it up so that whenever an item was posted on Instagram, it automatically uploaded to Twitter as well. I can imagine the marketing departments of large-scale enterprises are manually posting the same information on various platforms multiple times per day. You could link all of these up as well as receiving notifications on Slack and saving all the details on Excel.”

That could be very useful. Sounds like there are plenty of quick wins that could make life a bit easier. But how about some more detailed processes across various systems; for example, could you have used it on some of your own current automation projects?

SC: “Well, one thing I did notice is that items were not backwards compatible, so automations would only be available to companies with the latest versions of Microsoft online. I don’t see an issue with this; in fact, I see it as a sustainable feature of the platform. Personally, I have had nightmares about retrospectively putting functionality into software on top of all the maintenance! But to answer the question, no I couldn’t have used it on the recent jobs as it wouldn’t have been fully compatible with the systems I was automating so there is definitely some work for Microsoft to do there

Fair enough. Is that the only drawback?

SC: “The missing piece of the puzzle in my eyes is handling native applications with RPA – and it seems that Microsoft has already looked to plug this gap with the acquisition of Softomotive, a RDA and RPA provider who have been in the automation game since 2005. This makes perfect sense to me as WinAutomation and ProcessRobot (Softomotive offerings) have some powerful “Triggers” to the processes, which remind me of the powerful triggers to processes available to Power Automate already.

I’ve put together a table with the various strengths and weaknesses of Power Automate in order to compare it with UI Path and Blue Prism:

So do you expect to see Microsoft moving rapidly towards the top right hand corner of the Gartner RPA quadrant?

SC: “Linking Power Automate with the Softomotive offerings is a gamechanger for me, this would allow very unique ways of kicking off processes with a solid RPA solution on top of the huge array of connectors, although I do think it could take Microsoft 6-12 months to integrate the technologies effectively. Overall, you can see the potential for a new “big player” in the world of Intelligent Automation but both Uipath and Blue Prism are investing heavily so its game-on!”

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