Power Automate Desktop
Microsoft’s Power Automate Wave 2 expansion has allowed the once niche and cost-effective RPA alternative to transform itself into a strong competitor within the process automation marketplace. Though Microsoft has implemented a number of features, functionalities, and improvements to their product, the price point is extremely competitive when compared to big players in the RPA marketplace like UiPath, Automation Anywhere, and Blue Prism.
This blog reviews the changes to the Power Automate software throughout Microsoft’s Wave 2 release plan for Citizen Developers, as well as the additional functionality the Power Automate Desktop version introduces to the tool.
Feature, Functionality, & Improvement Explanation
For Citizen Developers
Citizen Developer is a term Microsoft uses for business users who are highly technical
Error, Analytics, & Input Management Related Functions
Real time view of robotic process automation runs, errors, and queues available
This feature allows makers to perform the following operations for their desktop flows:
- Monitor desktop flows.
- View queues to check for contention.
- Prioritize the most important automation directly in the Monitor
Actionable error messages will be available in power automate
In 2020 release wave 2, Microsoft improved Power Automate errors to be actionable by providing guidance on how to fix them. Microsoft will show documentation and community discussions about errors you receive in Power Automate to help you resolve the errors more quickly.
See raw inputs and outputs in the run history
You can select any flow and see the run history for the last 30 days. When you select a particular run, you get an experience similar to the designer, showing the inputs and outputs of each action.
Now, there are new options for Show raw inputs and Show raw outputs for triggers and actions that have run. This is useful if you want to quickly search across all of the different outputs of a particular action. Note that these links will not show up if the inputs or outputs are too large. For larger inputs or outputs, you will need to use the download link to view the results of the action.
Use sensitive text inputs with desktop flows
This feature provides for the use of sensitive text inputs and outputs to control which variables are stored in the run logs for desktop flows. These fields can be used for exchanging sensitive content like passwords between cloud flows and desktop flows.
Support for IMEs in Power Automate Desktop and web recorders
An IME is a software component that enables a user to input text in a language that can’t be represented easily on a standard QWERTY keyboard. This is typically due to the number of characters in the user’s written language.
With this feature, a user can specify that a text field should be populated with the use of IMEs during a web or desktop recording. The user inserts the text with an IME and the generated action will include the inserted text as part of the automation script.
- Input Method Editors (IMEs) for users with QWERTY keyboards are supported in Power Automate Desktop and web recorder of PAD, and inserted text is now part of the generated script.
Direct sensitive input and variables or expression can be used interchangeably in some action fields
With this feature, the Power Automate designer and the recorders can use direct encrypted input in the following actions, which provide text input to target fields:
- Populate text field on webpage
- Populate text field in window
- Send keys
- Set text on terminal session
This functionality is available when you manually create or edit a desktop flow. It’s also available through the web and desktop recorders, allowing the user to protect text data that should not be visible on screen.
Along with direct sensitive input, password fields can also accept variables that were defined earlier.
- Users can either provide direct encrypted input or use variables for their sensitive data, if for instance they need to be provided multiple times.
Admin & Management Related Functions
View shared desktop flows from Power Automate Desktop
Users will be able to run, view, or modify any desktop flow that is shared with them directly from within Power Automate Desktop in the Shared with me
- If the shared flow has user permission, the user can only run the flow.
- If it has co-owner permission, the user can run, modify, rename, and delete the flow.
- Users will be able to collaborate by sharing desktop flows with each other.
Power Automate Desktop governance
Admins can regulate the account types that can sign-in to Power Automate Desktop by adding registry entries using a group policy or manually to the user’s device.
- Admins can restrict access to Power Automate Desktop to specific users by adding a registry entry to their devices.
New Microsoft Power Automate Desktop settings panel
This feature provides a new Settings panel in Microsoft Power Automate Desktop, where users can manage general settings.
Here’s a list of the settings that users can change.
|Auto-start application||When enabled, Power Automate Desktop starts automatically with Windows.|
|On close, keep the application running||Configures the close (when pressing X from the console) behavior. If enabled, Power Automate Desktop won’t close, rather it’ll be minimized in the system tray. If disabled, Power Automate Desktop will exit when the user closes it.|
|Display Windows notifications||Displays notifications in the Windows notification area when enabled when users start, stop, or end processes. This is useful when a running flow needs to interact with a screen element that is covered by the notification.|
|Stop the running flow with hotkey||When enabled, a user can stop a running flow using a combination of keys (for example, Alt + Control + Shift + T) to stop a running flow. This is especially useful when the running flow is using the mouse.|
|Data collection||When enabled, telemetry is sent to Microsoft to improve the product and provide support to customers.|
- Microsoft Power Automate Desktop has a new settings panel from which the users can configure some general Power Automate Desktop settings, such as auto-start app with Windows, a keyboard shortcut key to stop the running flow, Power Automate Desktop exit button behavior, and lastly, if Power Automate Desktop will display Windows notifications or not.
Start or extend trials from power Automate Desktop
With this feature, users can start their trial for an attended RPA license directly from the Microsoft Power Automate Desktop console. Prior to March 2021, a license was required to use Power Automate Desktop functionalities. From March 2021, users without an attended RPA license can use Power Automate Desktop and new functionalities are available with the attended RPA license.
Sovereign cloud support for RPA
This feature allows users from sovereign and government clouds to use Microsoft Power Automate Desktop.
Administrators can use out of the box reports to monitor and govern the use of RPA
This feature provides four new analytics reports for desktop flows, including Runs, Usage, Created, and Errors. After you select the report, you can switch the views between cloud flows and desktop flows, switch to view analytics for environments for which you are an admin, and change the time period (up to 28 days) to view. Data is refreshed on a daily basis.
Users with a work or school account can access and use Power Automate Desktop at no additional cost
Starting March 2, 2021, users with a work or school account can access and use Power Automate Desktop at no additional cost.
- Automation for everyone!
Microsoft account users can now access Power Automate Desktop
Starting March 2, 2021, users can use their personal Microsoft account to sign in to Power Automate Desktop and automate their tasks.
- Power Automate Desktop is available for all Microsoft account users allowing for the growth of the community of users and developers.
New and improved management and monitoring for desktop flows
Makers need a consolidated view to see how their desktop flows are doing. You need an overview of your desktop flow runs, flows that use the desktop flows, and the most common errors. This will help you to understand bot utilization, identify error patterns, and troubleshoot issues.
Desktop Flow Related Functions
Chat bot assistant to help build flows
With this feature, Microsoft is launching an assistant for Power Automate to aid in authoring workflows in the form of a Power Virtual Agent bot (PVA bot). Citizen developers can now get assistance to solve the most common workflows scenarios in Power Automate. They can access content in the form of templates, documentation, and community answered questions for their favorite automation tasks.
Makers can filter sharepoint rows without Odata queries
With 2020 release wave 2, Microsoft introduced an experience similar to the steps used in the condition builder for low code users to filter the rows that a SharePoint list returns. You can add multiple conditions and group them, too. For example, you can request that the list returns only the items that were created yesterday and whose status is approved.
![NOTE] Pro devs can continue to use OData queries from the advanced view.
- Low code users can now get more value from the SharePoint connector.
Contextual help for Power Automate Makers
In 2020 release wave 2, Microsoft introduced contextual help you can use while building flows. With this feature, when you select a connector, you’ll see the documentation, community, and blog post links that are related to the connector that you selected. As you progress through and select a trigger or an action, the right-side pane will be refreshed, and you’ll see the corresponding documentation for the trigger or action that you selected.
- Contextual help will make it incredibly easy to build your flows with step-by-step guidance from documentation, community, and blog posts right in the product.
Enhanced capabilities in the interaction of desktop recorder and windows
This feature improves the desktop recording experience, so you can capture desktop actions and interactions by using the Start
Role-based sharing experiences for Power Automate Desktop
This feature provides a role-based sharing experience for automations so that multiple people can collaborate on activities, such as editing.
Further democratize RPA through new authoring experiences with Microsoft power automate desktop
This feature has a citizen developer-friendly interface, enabling any user to create rich automations via recording or by adding pre-built actions as building blocks. Its improved application compatibility unlocks automations for Java, terminal, or complex extraction across webpages on top of the go-to business applications, such as SAP or Microsoft Excel. It is also suited for automation specialists with advanced debugging and error management capabilities.
With these features, you can:
- Build richer desktop automations using over 370 pre-built actions.
- Automate legacy applications that were previously not supported, such as Java, terminal, and complex webpages.
- Improve desktop automation readability and reuse with sub-flows.
- Improve automation reliability with new debug capabilities and error handling.
- Trigger and orchestrate Power Automate Desktop automations from the cloud.
- View Power Automate Desktop run logs in the cloud.
New PDF actions are available
With this feature, you can use the following actions with PDFs within the Power Automate Desktop application for desktop flows:
- Extract images
- Extract text
- Extract PDF pages to new PDF
- Merge PDF files
- The user will be able to directly interact with PDF files by extracting text or images within the file or otherwise manipulating them.
Easier setup, creation, and runtime configuration of desktop flows
Microsoft is making the following improvements across desktop flows setup, creation, and configuration.
- Users can cancel or resubmit a desktop flow and get the connection status of a flow run.
- When adding a desktop flow, the gateway connection will be tested to confirm that the desktop flows app is installed and running, so that users can be confident that the flow will be able to run.
Add delay actions to Desktop Flows V1
With this feature, makers can add delay actions wherever they’re needed in desktop flows to give additional time to get the application into the correct state. This can be necessary if the automation or application is sensitive to wait time.
Desktop Flows V1 adds support for copy and paste
You can copy actions and scopes and use Add an action to select the copied actions and scopes from my clipboard to insert into another location or desktop flow. The copied actions and scopes will be given unique names automatically. If a scope has another scope inside of it, the nested structure is retained when you paste items from my clipboard.
Desktop Flows V1 allows users to customize the retry and timeout settings for each action
Makers can customize the retry policy and the timeout settings for each action in a desktop flow. These customizations include setting different retry counts or retry intervals for any step that’s likely to fail. These customizations will improve the reliability and performance of desktop flow scripts at runtime.
Add WinAutomation actions to Desktop Flows V1
WinAutomation is now available as a Desktop Flow through Power Automate as a connector
Templatizing and distributing common business process scenarios
There are many tasks that business can automate using templates such as recruitment and vacation management. Microsoft will provide templates for administrators and makers to build these processes within applications such as Microsoft Teams, allowing them to customize the experiences to fit their needs.
These templates include building blocks for a variety of industries that allow for integrations into numerous business processes. These integrations were done using a dedicated app to acquire, customize, and manage business processes within integration points.
Unlike the current experience, these templates will leverage the “diet designer” – a streamlined way to provide configuration to a template without having to see the full designer experience.
To summarize, the release of Power Automate Desktop along with the features, functionalities, and improvements that Microsoft has implemented since wave 2 began have propelled the tool from niche use cases to being a strong competitor within the RPA marketplace. Improvements such as automation through “action recording” increased the usability. This allows for a higher level of employee understanding and adoption of the tool. Features such as database, teams, and SharePoint integrations (Microsoft Connectors) have increased the appeal of Power Automate. Functionality such as the Chat bot assistant and premade parameter builder allow non-technical users more flexibility and ease in the way they automate their tasks. Additionally, highly technical users will have a greater variety of tools at their disposal.
Microsoft’s Power Automate Software has come a long way since it was introduced in December 2019. The most recent addition of the Desktop version serves to further improve, build upon, and integrate with Microsoft services. The continuous updates and support for the software as well as the high degree of communication from the developers serves to inspire a large degree of confidence in the current and future capabilities of the Power Automate product.
Microsoft. (n.d.). New and planned features for Power Automate, 2020 release wave 2 – Power Platform Release Plan. New and planned features for Power Automate, 2020 release wave 2 – Power Platform Release Plan | Microsoft Docs. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-platform-release-plan/2020wave2/power-automate/planned-features.