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Power Platform: Basics for Absolute Beginners

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Many years ago when organizations first started discovering that data contains wonderful secrets, questions centered around how to gather data and get enough of it. Having answered those questions, organizations today are sitting on mountains of data and wondering what to do with it.

The answer to this new question boils down to the idea that there is a lot we can do with our mountains of data. While many products and services on the market can help with one or many of the answers, the Power Platform suite aims to provide end-to-end coverage for the entire Business Intelligence process, from obtaining data to taking action. What makes Power Platform truly unique, however, is less in what it can do and more in who can do it.

Power Platform enables anyone in an organization—even business users with no coding skills—to interact with and get value from data with the same power and flexibility as advanced development teams.

Combining this concept of low-code development and high customization potential, enables organizations to use and manage data to meet their unique requirements without the cost and slow rollout associated with hiring professional developers.

Citizen developers (i.e. low- and no-code users in Power Platform) and automated processes can efficiently handle the day-to-day operations without straining IT resources. This frees up professional developers to work on customizations beyond Microsoft Power Platform’s convenient user interfaces.

In short: “anyone can Power Platform,” and that’s exactly the idea.

Microsoft Power Platform: Feature Services

Microsoft Power Platform offers several feature services, including Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI, and Power Virtual Agents. Here’s an overview:

What is Power Apps?

Power Apps fulfills the deep desire we’ve all secretly (or not so secretly) had of designing a custom app, only we don’t have to learn how to code to make it. The sky is the limit when building in Power Apps, with support for a vast array of display and interaction features.

You can create a functional and user-friendly app to manage inventory, work orders, contacts, or any other data. The data itself can be input and output via Power Apps itself, but there are also hundreds of data connectors available to get data from nearly anywhere.

For example, you can create a functional and user-friendly app to manage inventory, work orders, contacts, or other data. You can put customers’ contact details into a spreadsheet or database, along with their preferences and purchase history, then create an app to access, organize, share, and edit them with a few clicks.

Power Apps offers three building modes:

  • Canvas apps for drag and drop customization.
  • Model-driven apps that build themselves based on what you need from the data.
  • Portal apps for creating customized and secure public-facing interfaces.

Everything you need is a quick tutorial away. Leveraging Power Apps is much faster and cheaper than building or hiring for the years of experience required to code a functional custom app from scratch.

What is Power Automate?

Having just read that Power Apps helps you build an app, you can probably guess that Power Automate helps you automate. Automating repetitive tasks and processes helps the organization improve operational cost-efficiency while reducing errors and delays.

Here’s a joke I heard once, “Why spend ten minutes completing a task manually when I can spend an hour automating it?”

It might sound silly to spend an hour automating a task that takes ten minutes to complete manually, until you calculate the time spent completing that task manually every day, every week, or even every month. Ten minutes at a time can add up quickly, and suddenly the hour spent setting up automation so you never have to do it manually again starts to make a lot of sense.

Power Automate helps you create automated workflows for tasks like approval requests, database updates, and appointment scheduling. These workflows can be triggered actively by users or reactively by other workflows and activities outside your control, such as receiving an email.

Imagine a scenario where an employee receives an email from their manager. They’ll get a reminder if they don’t respond after a week. When they respond, the information is added to a database automatically, a new task is assigned, and a meeting is scheduled.

From there, any number of processes and flows could happen automatically. The low-code platform makes it easy to create workflows with any number of steps that connect to any number of other workflows.

This low-code platform allows business users to set up various processes quickly and effortlessly. Power Automate offers the ability to build an entirely unique process from scratch or start with the pre-built template; no need to reinvent the wheel!

What is Power BI?

Apps and automation are far from all Power Platform has to offer. At some point during the process, we need to be able to clean the data and turn it into actionable insights. Power BI is the tool that enables taking all that raw data and producing beautiful and effective reports and visualizations.

Power BI is a powerful standalone service. Organizations can use it to connect to nearly any data source, transform and clean the data, then produce any number of attractive reports showcasing key information in charts, maps, and tables. Once made, the reports are published to the Power BI Service, where they can be securely shared with both internal and external users.

From there, even more potential is unlocked when we combine Power BI with other services within the Power Platform suite. For example, data insights become all the more accessible and actionable by adding charts and reports from Power BI to Power Apps.

What is Power Virtual Agents?

We’ve established that everybody probably wants to be able to design their own custom app, but what about a custom chatbot? Yes, really!

Power Virtual Agents is a service that enables customizing and implementing intelligent, AI-driven chatbots with built-in natural language processing—all without a single line of manual code. Finally, an intelligent conversational partner!

These chatbots can be made available almost anywhere. Integrate a bot with Microsoft Teams or Slack to boost internal collaboration. Set up a bot on Facebook Messenger to catch customer interactions instantly and provide comprehensive engagement instead of a generic “away” message. They are able to handle simple tasks quickly and even do some heavy lifting with the ability to trigger workflows and look up information from a database, along with many other useful functions.

Microsoft Power Platform Use Cases

Power Apps, Power Automate, Power BI, and Power Virtual Agents work together to provide data processing and analytics capabilities that would take months or years for professional coders and analysts to develop. Plus, they save you the long-term expenses of maintaining and upgrading these features.

The value of these features may seem obvious at the enterprise level, but even a small organization can see huge value from the adoption of Power Platform.

In order to paint a picture, let’s say you run a handyman service. Multiple technicians may be in the field at any given moment, and you need to provide support, tools, and supplies for every job.

When a technician on a job needs a replacement part, they can open the inventory Power App on their phone and check the availability in real-time instead of driving to the warehouse only to discover that it’s out of stock. When they take out a part, Power Automate updates the inventory database and triggers a workflow to order a new part.

If everyone is busy and a customer wants to schedule an appointment via Facebook, a Power Virtual Agent can collect the appointment information and trigger a new workflow to assign a technician to the job so you don’t miss out on the opportunity.

At the end of the week, a scheduled refresh of the data ensures all Power BI reports are current and showcase the critical insights managers and decision-makers need to take action for the future.

What Else is Possible on the Power Platform?

Access to advanced AI doesn’t end with chatbots. The AI Builder offers a broad range of AI processing opportunities. Natural language processing (NLP) capabilities can read text from an image, object detection can recognize and count objects in images, and predictive analytics can turn data from the past into hypotheses about the future.

Did I mention these features are still low- or no-code? User interfaces in Power Platform provide the bulk of functionality, just like in most standard Microsoft products. Processes that take an advanced programmer hours to code can be completed in minutes by someone who has never written a single line of code.

Each component of the Power Platform suite is powerful on its own, and many services can be connected directly to data sources like Excel, but this is simply an inefficient method of data management. Magic happens when we start tying disparate data sources together in a single data storage solution: the Dataverse.

The Dataverse offers hundreds of premade connectors and even custom connectors to bring data into one secure, organized location accessible by all Microsoft Power Platform services. In addition to efficiency, this process provides a security layer that supports public-facing features like a portal app.

Another benefit of the Dataverse is creating a single source of truth that always has the latest data: no more wondering who last edited a spreadsheet or whether you have the most current copy. When a user inputs new data in a Power App, it’s immediately available for AI Builder or Power BI analysis.

Within the Dataverse, relationships are defined between disparate sources of data. For example, transactional data exported from an online storefront forms a relationship with supplier data from an Excel spreadsheet. When these disjointed facts and figures come together, we find ourselves in possession of a veritable treasure trove of insights.

The very best part of all this? “Anyone can Power Platform,” and that means you! The team at Skypoint Cloud is happy to help, offering any guidance you need in your Power Platform journey.

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