570 – Automation for all

clip_image002Before The Event, if you were an IT professional in the Microsoft ecosystem for any amount of time, you may have marked your calendar by conferences you were going to attend – PDC, WPC, maybe TechEd? The big ones always happened in the US, but some were followed up with regional replays.

All were replaced in time with rebranded but otherwise similarly targeted variants:

  • Build (in the spring, initially in SFO to appeal to the cool cats writing apps, then moved to Seattle with a focus on cloud),
  • Inspire (in the summer, with thousands of partners, latterly held in Las Vegas) and
  • Ignite (in the autumn, home to lots of IT pros, often in Orlando).

2020 saw a fast move to hosting everything digitally and for the most part got away with it. 2021 was always going to be different, and the first big do of the year took place this past week – a spring Ignite. When you don’t need to book a conference centre 12 months in advance and get thousands of people to fly in to attend, why not do some of the big events more often or a different time of year?

For a summary of what was being announced at Ignite 2021, check out the excellent Ignite Book of News.

Charles Lamanna’s keynote on Power Platform highlighted some news around Power Automate – one of the key components of the Power Platform and formerly known as Microsoft Flow, Power Automate began as an online service that could make workflows to stitch together actions that happened across multiple online applications –a new booking alert email to a hotel mailbox could add an appointment to a Google Calendar and send a notification to someone on Microsoft Teams, and so on.

Just announced is that the fairly new Power Automate Desktop will be included in Windows 10 and is free to download and use now.

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This tool brings automation concepts right down to the desktop, allowing any end user to create flows that span multiple apps and services; it’s not unlike an advanced Macro Recorder, where the user can perform a task that is regularly repeated, and the software will keep track of the steps they’re making.

With PAD, however, it’s more than just repetition – they can go back and inject data into those steps, like take the email addresses from column B of this spreadsheet and send a specific email to each one, with logic determining what should be different for each message (so a lot more granular than a simple mail merge).

clip_image006As well as some pretty advanced integration into all kinds of apps on Windows and services on the web, there are lots of tools to guide the flow of logic; while it might seem a bit scary to some, anyone who’s ever done some basic programming will be able to quickly figure out how to describe the logic without needing to break out a line of code.

This capability has come about through Microsoft acquiring Robotic Process Automation specialist company Softomotive in early 2020.

The impact of RPA is explored when looking at how this technology could remove boring, repetitive tasks thus freeing up clever and creative people to do something better with their time and attention. On one hand, automating processes could be a threat as we’ll need fewer people to do the same things, but a more optimistic view is that it will increase productivity and satisfaction. If you have 17 minutes free, then check out a great TEDx talk on “White Collar Robots”.

There’s a great demo of Power Automate technology being used in real-world scenarios, on Microsoft Mechanics. See more videos from the makers on Microsoft Mechanics – YouTube

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