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 Professional Developers, as well as the additional functionality the Power Automate Desktop version introduces to the tool.
Feature, Functionality, & Improvement Explanation
For Professional Developers
Professional Developer is a term Microsoft uses for someone that is fluent in programming or is at the level of a professional programmer
Error, Analytics, & Input Management Related Functions
Provision a Microsoft Dataverse database from Power Automate Desktop
With this feature, makers using Power Automate Desktop can create the required Microsoft Dataverse database if their default environment doesn’t already contain one. This database can be created without leaving Power Automate Desktop.
- Users will be able to create a Microsoft Dataverse database (if there isn’t an existing one) without having to read technical documents or going to Power Platform admin center.
Document automation for Power Automate
Intelligent document processing provides a complete end-to-end solution for processing documents at scale. It includes a document queue, a manual validation application that allows for user validation, AI Builder models to extract data from documents, and several flows for importing documents and exporting data to external systems. It offers a generic solution that’s usable with any document type in addition to specialized solutions for specific document types, such as invoices.
Deep analytics for Desktop Flows to administer, govern, and nurture RPA through the CoE starter toolkit
With this feature, you can use rich filters in the Center of Excellence (CoE) toolkit to view the number of desktop flows, creators, trends, apps used, and active departments.
For more information about the CoE toolkit guidance, go to Microsoft Power Platform Center of Excellence (CoE) Starter Kit.
Diagnose trigger issues using flow checker
In 2020 release wave 2, Microsoft introduced diagnostics to the flow checker to troubleshoot issues after flows are live. You can see any active issues (trigger failures, run failures) or potential issues (the flow is turned off, the flow is reaching/reached API throttling limits, and more) with your flow, and you can get guidance on how to fix them.
Automation lifecycle management for robotic process automation
The feature extends the automation lifecycle management to UI flows, allowing separate development, test, and production environments and continuous deployment across these environments.
Second level of error handling in Power Automate Desktop
With this feature, On block error is available to be used in flows, allowing the maker to handle potential errors that may arise from a block of actions in a single, uniform way.
This feature provides a second level of error handling after the default one that’s associated with the individual error handling of the action.
- You don’t have to set the same error handling behavior in a sequence of individual actions. Instead, you can use the On block error action to set a uniform behavior for handling all the errors of a block of actions
Power Automate Desktop sends logs to Microsoft dataverse
With this feature, users can view the run history of their desktop flows, including runs that were made from the console. To view the run history, select a desktop flow, and then select Details.
- Users are able to debug and monitor the execution of their flows.
Flow Development Related Functions
Add support to pass arguments to the launch application step in Desktop Flows V1
The first step in a desktop flow is always launch application, but sometimes, the maker needs to pass command line arguments to this step. With this feature, Microsoft is adding a new input textbox under the Show advanced options section to allow makers to provide command-line arguments that will be passed to the application during launch.
View the value of variables in Power Automate Desktop
After the flow run completes (or when it’s paused), you can double-click on a flow variable chip in the variables pane of the Microsoft Power Automate Desktop flow designer. You can also right-click and select View to display the variable value window.
Each variable type is displayed with its own format. For example:
- Data tables and datarows are displayed in a table format.
- Lists are displayed in a list format.
- Text and numeric values are displayed as simple text fields.
If a value cannot be fully displayed, select More to view the rest of the value.
- The user is able to inspect in detail the variable values in PAD during or after flow execution from the designer, which improves testing and debugging efficiency during development.
Set priorities for desktop flows
With this feature, you can define the priority in which desktop flows run on a gateway or gateway cluster, allowing you to manage the use of on-premises resources. In the monitoring view, you can also change the priority for a run and even push it to the top of the queue of the gateway or gateway cluster.
Run from here functionality
The Run from here feature allows you to start debugging from a selected action within the flow. This feature will help in debugging and in testing the flow from different subflows or from any action.
- Microsoft has made enhancements to the Power Automate designer that enable users to develop and debug flows more easily.
More conditional operators are available in power automate desktop
The following operators have been added in the If, Else if, and Case actions:
- Doesn’t contain
- Is empty
- Isn’t empty
- Starts with
- Doesn’t start with
- Ends with
- Doesn’t end with
- The user is able to create more sophisticated conditions, including operators like Starts with or Is empty, which can help evaluate text strings or lists.
Actions parameters parity with WinAutomation
This feature removes confusing experiences and makes it easier to create solutions when using specific Power Automate Desktop actions, providing the same ease of use that was available in WinAutomation. For example:
- In the Send keys action, you’ll be able to insert special keys and modifiers from a list.
- When working with SQL actions, you’ll have access to the built-in ability to automatically create connection strings.
- When working with desktop apps, you’ll find it easier to get a window’s title and class information.
- The mouse coordinates in the Send mouse click action will be easily retrievable.
- The Go to action will provide the list of available labels.
- Multiple actions will become more user-friendly, allowing for more intuitive configuration during development.
Use of variables within the desktop and web recorder as input and output parameters
Variables as input parameters
- Currently, you can populate a text field in a screen only by inserting specific (static) text. In order to set a dynamic value for a field, the user must manually update the action in the designer after the recording completes. With this new feature, you can indicate that the specific text field should be populated dynamically with the use of an input/output or a flow variable in Power Automate Desktop.
Variables as output parameters
- Currently, the user can retrieve the text/name of a UI control during recording; however, there is no option during recording to specify the Power Automate Desktop variable that should be populated with the specific text/name. The user has to manually update the respective action after the recording completes. With this new feature, the user is able to populate an input/output or flow variable in Power Automate Desktop with the retrieved value.
- The user is able to use dynamic values as parameters in actions by defining them during the recording, improving the Power Automate Desktop UX.
Desktop Flows V1 supports do until loops
In desktop flows V1, users can add a Do Until action to configure repeating action(s). The feature requires a control condition that governs running the loops and configuration to define the maximum number of loops and runtime. Users can either select Add an action or drag and drop another action to add it into the Do Until.
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.