Rise of the (software) robots: MS, RPA and you

Let’s not get over-excited: we’re talking about software robots, not mechanised machines. Robotic process automation (RPA) systems use artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to automate business processes and other routine tasks. The idea is to free workers from basic data-handling duties so they can concentrate on higher-value jobs that require human judgment, creativity and problem-solving.

Instead of requiring a software developer to understand business processes in detail and write code to automate them, RPA systems observe users performing tasks and then use AI and ML to repeat the tasks using their native software (that is, the business’s existing security, accounting, HR and other platforms).

Each RPA instance has its own ‘virtual workstation’, and the RPA services use virtualised keyboard and mouse controls to operate the systems they’re working in.

Does more robots mean less staff?

We don’t think so. Most businesses have better uses for their staff than routine, automate-able tasks. Business process outsourcing (BPO) providers are more at risk. Still, the idea of improving productivity, not to mention working on more challenging and engaging tasks, has made RPA a welcome addition to most workplaces it’s been deployed.

Microsoft goes with the Flow

As expected, Microsoft has made a strong play in the RPA space. Power Automate is all about ‘flows’. Best of all, just about anybody can use the tools – no programming required. Here’s how it works.

First, you choose whether to create a cloud, desktop or business process flow.

  • Cloud flows use digital process automation and simple, logical flowcharts to connect processes into a workflow. There’s also an extensive template library with thousands of pre-built flows, from ‘Save a message to OneNote’ to more complex tasks such as ‘Notify a team when a new Forms response is submitted’, or ‘Start an approval in Teams when a file is added to a SharePoint folder’.
  • Desktop flows use RPA to automate desktop user interface tasks between API and non-API-based systems. Like Cloud flows, you can use a drag-and-drop visual designer (with hundreds of pre-built actions) to create flows or use web and desktop recorders to capture keystrokes and mouse clicks for import into the designer. You can even trigger desktop flows within cloud flows, expanding your scope for automation.
  • Business process flows ‘allow you to automate multistep, guided processes, ensuring consistency and taking out the boring part such as notifying the right stakeholders to approve a step, or keeping track of past decisions’.

Keep flowin’

Once your organisation is using flows, you can use AI Builder to add intelligence and improve business performance by building, training and publishing AI models without coding.

  • Document automation allows you to automate and accelerate document processing, for example, by automating invoice and payment processes in your purchase ledger.
  • Process advisor lets you track business processes and identify bottlenecks – and how to resolve them. It can also recommend automations for cloud flow connectors.

How do you run it?

Unsurprisingly, Microsoft has integrated Power Automate into its ecosystem, using a simple, easy-t0-learn interface and logically configured controls.

  • Microsoft Power Automate online is your automation hub, control panel and overview. You can access AI builder, analytics, connectors, data, flows, templates, Process advisor, templates, connectors and more from its simple interface.
  • Power Automate Desktop is your desktop flow creation location. It offers no-code RPA tools to help you build flows and streamline your work.
  • Microsoft Teams now includes a Power Automate app that allows you to manage cloud and business process flows from within the app, either building your flows or deploying a template.
  • The mobile app lets you access and automate cloud flows in your preferred iOS or Android app, no matter when or where you are.

Faster, stronger, better

Microsoft has integrated Power Automate fully with Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365, with controls in their interfaces. It’s a simple, efficient, cost-effective way to streamline your business and unlock your team’s potential and enjoy the benefits of intelligent automation. Sound good? Then why not contact us today? We’d love to talk.

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