Workflow Automation with Microsoft Power Automate - Second Edition

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By Aaron Guilmette
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    Getting Started with Power Automate

About this book

MS Power Automate is a workflow automation tool built into MS 365 to help businesses automate repetitive tasks or trigger business processes without user intervention. It is a low-code tool that is part of the Microsoft applications framework, the Power Platform.

If you are new to Power Automate, this book will give you a comprehensive introduction and a smooth transition from beginner to advanced topics to help you get up to speed with business process automation. Complete with hands-on tutorials and projects, this easy-to-follow guide will show you how to configure automation workflows for business processes between hundreds of applications, using examples within Microsoft and including third-party apps like Dropbox and Twitter. Once you understand how to use connectors, triggers, and actions to automate business processes, you’ll learn how to manage user input, documents, and approvals, as well as interact with databases. This edition also introduces new Power Automate features such as using robotic process automation (RPA) to automate legacy applications, interacting with the Microsoft Graph API, and working with artificial intelligence models to do sentiment analysis.

By the end of this digital transformation book, you’ll have mastered the basics of using Power Automate to replace repetitive tasks with automation technology.

Publication date:
August 2022
Publisher
Packt
Pages
420
ISBN
9781803237671

 

Getting Started with Power Automate

In the first chapter, we introduced some of the basic concepts of Microsoft Power Automate. Now that you’re familiar with some of the ideas and terminology behind Power Automate, let’s take a look at navigating the interface.

As a Power Automate user, you’ll have access to the web portal interface (most commonly used) as well as the desktop and mobile interfaces. If you administer a Microsoft 365 tenant, you’ll also have some administrative features available.

In this chapter, we’ll tackle the following:

  • Logging in to Power Automate
  • Creating your first flow

You’ll learn the features of the interfaces, and then we’ll create a basic flow to post to a Teams channel.

Let’s get started!

 

Logging in to Power Automate

Power Automate has four distinct experiences:

  • End user web portal: User or creator interfaces with the purpose of designing, importing, saving, exporting, and executing flows.
  • Mobile app: User or creator interfaces with the purpose of designing, importing, saving, exporting, and executing flows, formatted specifically for mobile devices
  • Desktop: Most commonly used for creating Robotic Process Automation (RPA) flows
  • Admin: The overall administration of the Power Automate environment for your tenant, including the number of executions or runs and data gateway configurations

Power Automate tenant administration is largely outside the scope of what we’re going to be learning from a design aspect, but should you ever need to administer the Power Automate environment, you’ll know where to start.

Regardless of which interface you’re going to use, you’ll need access to Power Automate to get the most out of this book. If you don’t have access to Microsoft Power Automate within your organization, you’ll want to go start a Microsoft 365 trial so you can gain access to it. To start a trial subscription, navigate to https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/try and click the Free trial for business link.

It’s also important to note Microsoft Power Automate is a cloud-only solution—there is no required on-premises server counterpart (though you may install server-side components such as the data gateway or utilize Power Automate Desktop on Windows 10 and 11 computers). Microsoft Power Automate is available in the following Microsoft 365 clouds:

For the purposes of this book, we’ll focus on the features of the worldwide commercial solution. Users of Government Community Cloud Moderate (such as state and local governments) or Government Community Cloud High (such as federal civilian employees) may have slightly different feature sets available.

End user web portal interface

The end user web portal interface is where you’ll design, manage, and execute most of your flows. To access it, you can log in to http://flow.microsoft.com, or log in to the Microsoft 365 end user portal (https://portal.office.com) and click on the Power Automate tile. If you’re using one of the other sovereign clouds, use the links in the previous section or contact your reseller for specific links.

The web portal interface is depicted in Figure 2.1:

Figure 2.1: Power Automate home page

The left part of the page features a navigation menu that includes options to review action items (approvals and business process flows), as well as to create and manage your own flows and search for templates and connectors. The following list describes the options available:

  • Home: The dashboard displayed upon first logging in
  • Action items: The top-level menu item containing links to Approvals (approval workflows) and Business process flows (multi-step task-oriented flows)
  • My flows: Flows that you have created (or that have been shared with you)
  • Create: The interface for creating new flows
  • Templates: Pre-canned flows comprising connectors that only need to be customized
  • Connectors: List of connectors available in Power Automate
  • Data: A top-level menu item containing links to the following:
    • Tables (formerly Entities): Objects in Dataverse (formerly Common Data Service)
    • Connections: Authentication configurations for connectors
    • Custom connectors: Custom interfaces to REST API applications
    • Gateways: Basic information about existing data gateways to connect to on-premises data sources
  • Monitor: A top-level menu item containing links to the following:
    • Cloud flow activity: Review recent cloud flow runs or executions
    • Desktop flow runs: Review recent desktop flow runs
    • Machines: Real-time status for machines running desktop flows
  • AI Builder: A top-level menu item containing links to the following:
    • Explore: Samples, examples, and pre-built models for learning and using in your own flows
    • Models: AI models that you’ve built or have been shared with you for creating AI-based flows
    • Document automation: Tools for using both AI and RPA to extract structured and unstructured data from documents
  • Process advisor: Tools for analyzing business processes and detecting automation opportunities to be optimized
  • Solutions: Containers for managing the transporting and life cycle of Power Platform applications
  • Learn: A link to the landing page for Power Automate in the Microsoft documentation (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-automate/)

In this book, we’ll explore some of the components to use when building your own flows. You may want to spend some time looking through the connectors (https://flow.microsoft.com/en-us/connectors/) and templates (https://flow.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/) to start getting ideas of what types of applications and services you can integrate with Power Automate. You’ll want to focus on connectors and templates that help you integrate apps that your organization uses on a regular basis.

Mobile app interface

The Power Automate mobile app, available for both the iOS (https://apps.apple.com/us/app/microsoft-flow/id1094928825) and Android (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.microsoft.flow) platforms, offers a similar design aesthetic and experience, as shown in the following screenshot:

Figure 2.2: Power Automate for iOS

The following options are available on the home screen:

  • Activity: Shows a list of recently completed flows and approval activities
  • Browse: Search connectors and templates to begin creating a new flow
  • Buttons: Allows you to create button (or instant) flows to be triggered from your mobile device
  • Flows: Lists your own and your team’s (that is, shared) flows
  • Account: Your Office 365 tenant account sign-in information

The mobile experience focuses on surfacing flow components specifically tailored to mobile devices. The majority of this book will focus on the end user web portal experience, but there will be a few opportunities to use the mobile app.

Power Automate Desktop interface

As mentioned in Chapter 1, Introducing Microsoft Power Automate, Power Automate Desktop is a new way to interact with flows. You can only create robotic process automation flows from Power Automate Desktop.

The Power Automate Desktop application itself is free to download for Windows 10 and is included with Windows 11. However, in order to use advanced features (such as RPA flows), you may need to acquire additional licensing.

Figure 2.3 shows the Power Automate Desktop application on Windows 10:

Figure 2.3: Power Automate Desktop on Windows 10

Power Automate Desktop allows you to interrogate system resources and interact with files, browser instances, applications such as Outlook and Excel, command prompts, and even printers.

Admin interface

Previously, administrators needed to use both the Power Automate admin center as well as the Power Platform admin center to manage their environments. In 2021, all the functions were combined into the Power Platform admin center. You’ll have view-only access to this interface unless you’re a global admin of a Microsoft 365 tenant or have been granted Power Platform admin rights.

The Power Automate admin center (previously https://admin.flow.microsoft.com, which now redirects to https://admin.powerplatform.microsoft.com) allows you to keep track of runs executed tenant-wide, view license information, view overall environment data, and configure Data Loss Prevention (DLP) policies. In addition, the Power Platform admin center allows you to administer features across the entire Power Platform, including Power Automate, but also to Dynamics 365, Power BI, and Power Apps, as shown in Figure 2.4:

Figure 2.4: Power Platform admin center

While the admin interface will not be used extensively in this book, you should understand that it exists and that administrators of the overall Microsoft 365 environment can modify configurations and view statistical data across the organization.

Now that you’ve seen the various interfaces for Power Automate, let’s start creating!

 

Creating your first flow

The best way to see Power Automate in action is to start creating a flow. In this example, we’re going to create a flow that monitors Twitter for a certain hashtag and then posts a notification to a Teams channel. Such a flow might be useful if you’re trying to gauge or capture customer sentiment for a product or service, track trending public health topics related to certain keywords, monitor engagement activity, or other topic-based alerts on a social media platform.

Understanding the flow components

This particular flow is going to rely upon a few components:

  • An identity for Twitter (username and password)
  • A trigger that monitors Twitter for certain words or phrases
  • An identity for Office 365 (username and password)
  • A Microsoft Teams team
  • An action that posts to Microsoft Teams

To complete this flow, you’ll need your existing Microsoft 365 identity (or the identity you’re using in a test environment), as well as an identity for Twitter (https://www.twitter.com). You’ll also need access to a Microsoft Teams team where messages will be posted.

About Microsoft Teams

If you’re not familiar with Microsoft Teams, it’s a modern collaboration software platform that brings several Microsoft technologies under a single, unified user interface. You can learn how to create teams here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoftteams/get-started-with-teams-create-your-first-teams-and-channels. You can also learn more about Microsoft Teams in another Packt book, Expert Microsoft Teams Solutions (ISBN: 978-1801075558).

Once you have the required identities configured, we’ll start creating the flow!

Creating and executing the flow

Once we have the prerequisite components for the flow (that is, the aforementioned identities and a team), we can begin the configuration. To build this sample flow, follow these steps:

  1. Log in to the Power Automate web interface (https://flow.microsoft.com).
  2. On the left-hand side of the page, click Create.
  3. On the Manage your flows page, under Start from blank, click Automated cloud flow:

Figure 2.5: Creating an automated cloud flow

  1. Enter a Flow name.
  2. In the Choose your flow’s trigger box, start typing Twitter to filter triggers related to Twitter. Select When a new tweet is posted and click Create:

Figure 2.6: Creating a new cloud flow

  1. Next, click Sign in to provide the necessary Twitter credentials to access the Twitter API. You can use the Use default shared application authentication type for this basic flow:

Figure 2.7: Entering Twitter credentials

  1. Enter the credentials of a Twitter account and then select Authorize app:

    Figure 2.8: Authorizing the Twitter application

  2. In the Search text box, enter the text that you want to search for. In this case, the flow will be configured to monitor new instances of #learningpowerautomate:

    All Twitter interactions with the hashtag will be queried using the Twitter API, not just tweets posted by the account whose credentials were provided.

    Figure 2.9: Entering search text

  1. Click New step.
  2. Under Actions, search for the Microsoft Teams Post message in a chat or channel action and select it:

Figure 2.10: Selecting the Post message action

  1. Under Post as, select Flow bot.
  2. Under Post in, select Channel. This will allow you to select a team and a channel to post the message. Alternatively, you could also select Chat with Flow bot (some of the screens will be different). Select a Team and Channel where you have access to post messages.
  3. Populate the Message field. In this example, the dynamic content values Tweeted by and Tweet text have been selected to surface data provided by Twitter:

    Figure 2.11: Filling out the Post message action

    About Dynamic Content

    Many actions will give you access to dynamic content (data that is automatically populated, calculated, or retrieved) based on the context and parameters of the flow’s connected data sources and actions. Dynamic content values are automatically generated variables with content based on the result of previously completed actions or triggers.

  1. Scroll to the bottom of the page and select Save.

Now that the flow has been created and saved, you can test it by generating content and then checking to see whether the content gets posted to the Microsoft Teams channel as you’d expect:

Figure 2.12: Checking Microsoft Teams after tweeting

If it doesn’t look the way you expect, you can try adding different dynamic content variables or investigating the data retrieved during the run. We’ll examine some of the troubleshooting processes in Chapter 19, Monitoring and Troubleshooting Flows.

Examining the flow

At any time, you can use a feature called Peek code that allows you to look at the underlying JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) code that controls how a step functions.

To access the JSON view for a step, click the ellipsis (...) for the step and then select Peek code:

Figure 2.13: Launching Peek code

You can then navigate the detailed code for the step.

Figure 2.14: Viewing the JSON for a step

You can’t directly edit the JSON code in Power Automate’s user interface, but you can export it and edit it in an editor such as Visual Studio.

This flow built on your basic knowledge of flow components by adding dynamic content. We’ll use a lot more dynamic content in later chapters. As you can see, being able to use dynamic content placeholders and references will increase the richness of the flows you create.

When finished, you can click Done to leave the JSON code view.

 

Summary

In this chapter, you learned about the various Microsoft Power Automate interfaces (web, mobile, desktop, and admin) and some of the features available in each of them. Using the knowledge of Power Automate and the workflow concepts introduced in Chapter 1, Introducing Microsoft Power Automate, we built a simple flow to generate a Teams channel message based on Twitter keywords.

Our simple flow illustrated the power of automation to help organizations stay connected and generate actionable information in a relatable manner.

In the next chapter, we’re going to begin using Power Automate to perform common email tasks, such as filtering messages and working with attachments.

Learn more on Discord

To join the Discord community for this book – where you can share feedback, ask questions to the author, and learn about new releases – follow the QR code below:

https://packt.link/lcncdserver

About the Author

  • Aaron Guilmette

    Aaron Guilmette, a Senior Program Manager for Customer Experience (CXP), provides guidance and assistance to customers adopting the Microsoft 365 platform. He primarily focuses on collaborative technologies, including Microsoft SharePoint Online, Microsoft Exchange, and Microsoft Teams. He also works with identity and automation solutions.

    He has been involved with technology since 1998 and has provided consulting services for customers in the commercial, educational, and government sectors internationally. Aaron has also worked on technical certification exams and instructional design for Microsoft and other organizations.

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Latest Reviews

(1 reviews total)
Promising start, but unfinished. Just wait for it to be finished. In the mean time, buy the first edition.
Workflow Automation with Microsoft Power Automate - Second Edition
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