Microsoft announces Virtual Agents, RPA, enhanced security, and more for the Power Platform

Last month, Microsoft's 2019 release wave 2 for Dynamics 365 and the Power Platform reached general availability. While 74 new capabilities were initially showcased in early access, the general release comprised of over 400 new features. Over the course of the October, the Redmond firm has continued to push out updates to services part of the Power Platform.

At Ignite today, Microsoft has now announced a bunch of major updates to the Power Platform. These are aimed at advancing the tech giant's vision for the platform.

The following list provides an overview of the changes being introduced:

  • Microsoft Flow is being renamed to Power Automate, to better align with the Power Platform.
  • Robotic process automation (RPA) added to Power Automate, delivering an end-to-end automation solution that spans AI, APIs and UI on the Microsoft Power Platform.
  • Power Virtual Agents—a no-code approach to creating and deploying intelligent, AI-powered bots that will democratize bot creation.
  • A host of new security enhancements for Power BI, that add industry leading data security capabilities no matter where your analytics data is used and accessed.
  • Tighter integration between the Power Platform and Microsoft Teams bringing the world’s most popular collaboration app and Power Platform closer together.
  • A new set of prebuilt models for AI Builder that add even more advanced AI models to Power Automate and Power Apps that are available to everyone.

Expanding more on each of these, starting with Power Automate, the unified automation platform is getting a new robotic process automation (RPA) capability in public preview named 'UI flows'. Furthering the automation perspective, this feature provides a low-code, point-and-click experience. Combined with the pre-built connectors in Power Automate for over 275 apps which support API automation, an end-to-end automation platform is being offered that helps overcome the gap between the API-based and UI-based automation. You can sign up for the public preview of UI Flows here if interested.

Moving on, the new Power Virtual Agents offering follows the same guided, no-code approach to help subject matter experts in organizations create powerful bots. The aforementioned experts could include employees from customer service, sales, marketing, finance, or HR departments. Users can utilize pre-built connectors integrated with the Power Platform to enable communication between the bot and backend systems without any hassle. Those interested in adding code or more complex capabilities can make use of Microsoft's Cognitive Service and Bot Framework that, again, are fully integrated. With the public preview of Virtual Agents, Microsoft has continued its trend of introducing solutions that reduce dependency upon data scientists for AI-related tasks.

You can sign up for the preview here.

As far as Power BI is concerned, a number of new security capabilities have been introduced in the form of a public preview to ensure further security of data. They can be utilized when Power BI is paired with Microsoft Information Protection and Microsoft Cloud App Security.

These enhancements enable organizations to perform the following tasks with ease:

  • Classify and label sensitive data in Power BI with Microsoft Information Protection (MIP) sensitivity labels and enforce governance policies org-wide, the same way that files in Office 365 and emails in Exchange can be protected.
  • These labels persist even when a dashboard or report is exported to Excel, PowerPoint, or PDF files, ensuring that sensitive data is secured even when it leaves Power BI. Customers can set policy that governs when data can be exported based on device, location and sensitivity.
  • Monitor and protect user activity on sensitive data in real time with alerts, session monitoring, and risk remediation using Microsoft Cloud App security.
  • Empower security administrators using data protection reports and security investigation capabilities leveraging Microsoft Cloud App Security to enhance organizational oversight.

Furthermore, Power BI will now also have advanced integration with Azure Synapse Analytics, along with new lineage and impact analysis capabilities.

Microsoft Teams and the Power Platform services are being further integrated as well, with the aim to introduce both "workplace collaborations and data-driven business into one place". Dashboards, apps, and automations from the Power Platform are included in the Teams service to improve user interaction with these tools. Apps from PowerApps creators can also be published to their organization's app library in Teams, enhancing discoverability for users. Later this year, users will also be able to pin regularly used PowerApps to the left rail in Teams for easy access.

The shared workspace service now showcases new triggers and actions for Power Automate as well. These are aimed at making it more efficient to complete both individual- and team-based tasks such as automation of document approvals. New features for Power BI in association with Teams arriving next year, meanwhile, include data-rich adaptive cards for conversations. The Power BI tab experience in Teams will also be enhanced to make selection of correct reports a simpler process.

Finally new pre-built AI models for the no-code AI capability on Power Platform - AI Builder -, have been announced. Currently in public preview, these models are going to help business users avoid having to gather data to build and train their own models. You can find further information on them here.

For now, the pre-built scenarios include:

  • Key phrase extraction— identifies the main talking points from your text
  • Language detection—identifies the predominant language from your text
  • Text recognition—extracts embedded printed and handwritten text from images into machine-readable character streams
  • Sentiment analysis—detects positive, negative, neutral or mixed sentiment in social media, customer reviews, or any text data

To find out more about the plethora of aforementioned updates being brought to the Power Platform, you can check out the cumulative release notes for 2019 release wave 2 here. You can also learn more by attending Microsoft Business Applications Group CVP James Phillips' tech keynote from 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM ET today at the Chapin Theatre in Orlando, Florida.

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