In this blog post, we will deep dive into Microsoft Power Automate, which was earlier known as Microsoft Flow. We will understand the components of the software, try to build business process flows, and go through various aspects of automating business processes.
What is Microsoft Power Automate?
Microsoft Power Automate (earlier known as Microsoft Flow) allows business professionals (coders and non-coder) to automate repetitive manual tasks and paper processes using a drag-and-drop workflow interface.
Microsoft Power Automate can create workflows to sync data across apps and software, generate real-time notifications to alert stakeholders, update databases with new information and collect data from Power Apps or other data sources.
In simple words, suppose you have a process that you’d want to automate. Before starting, you can try to visualize the process flow by creating a flowchart. This flowchart contains different steps, variables, loops, and even conditions. Once done, you can replicate the same flowchart on Microsoft Power Automate.
Earlier known as Microsoft Flow, Microsoft Power Automate was made live in November 2019. Microsoft Power Automated is a feature-rich version of Microsoft Flow that allows professionals to connect 500+ connectors using rule-based workflows via Microsoft Power Apps. Power Automate is not a stand-alone application; all flows are set up via Microsoft Power Apps. Power Automate can be used in desktop mode (offline), mobile, or web applications.
What is Microsoft Power Automate used for?
Microsoft Power Automate can automate repetitive tasks, and 6 Microsoft Power Automate example workflows in the following pointers:
Perform a task
Think of any task requiring you to switch applications. That task can be automated with Power Automate workflow. This can be used personally to reduce manual efforts and focus on more valuable tasks.
E.g., Send a Tweet when a Google Sheets row is added, Send an email when an attachment is received
Synchronize Data, and Files
Microsoft Power Automate connectors can be used to sync new data across different software used by the enterprise. This ensures that all the business data is up-to-date and available across different applications.
Eg. When a new customer signs up, update the record in CRM, Marketing Automation & Sales Dashboard.
Send Real-Time Notifications
Send alerts via email to relevant stakeholders so that they stay up to date on recent happenings of the company.
E.g., When a customer complaint is received, send an alert to the Sales and Customer Success teams via email.
Microsoft Power Automate can be used to automate business processes with rule-based workflows created via Power Apps. e.g., Invoice Approval Process
You can automate all mailroom activities like sending an email, saving email attachments, categorizing an email, and processing the contents of the email.
E.g., Save all email attachments in Microsoft SharePoint or Personalize your OOO message.
With Microsoft Power App, you can create a front-end application to digitize data capture and use the data to perform further activities.
E.g., An automobile service station can create an app to capture customer and vehicle information and store information in their CRM.
Above, we’ve mentioned some of the use cases of Microsoft Power Automate. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it gives you a general idea of how businesses can use Microsoft Power Automate.
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How does Microsoft Power Automate Work?
To work with Power Automate, select the process you want to automate. Here is what the process looks like:
- You can create an entirely new flow from scratch or choose any of the available templates.
- Building a flow from scratch requires additional steps which will be discussed later on.
- Once your flow is outlined, connect it with the required datasets via connectors.
- You can test it via the “Run” option to check for errors.
- Set live.
Before we deep-dive into a tutorial on creating an automated workflow on Microsoft Power Automate, we should look at different components of the Power Automate screen and different flow types available for users to use.
What are the different components of Microsoft Power Automate software?
When you enter Microsft Power Automate, you will be greeted with a screen that resembles the image. Let’s look at what each and every component in the left-side navigation menu can do for you.
Action items give you an overview of all your business processes and any pending approvals requests.
Shows all the flows that you’ve created in your account in a single glance.
Lets you create a new workflow.
This option leads you to the workflow template library which contains templates segregated by your requirement. You can also use the search bar to find a template that suits your requirement.
Connectors just list all the software that can be connected. This is not the place where you can connect your software with Microsoft Power Automate. That option sits under Data. (that’s a little confusing)
This is one of the most important options in the navigation bar after +create. Data allows you to create tables (database to collect, sync, or store data), connections (shows all software that you’ve integrated with Power Automate), custom connectors, and gateways (create a gateway to store data on-premises but still share the data with the cloud when required in a secure manner).
Things to note – Only basic connectors are available in the free trial version. You can connect your own account only. To connect to the majority of other applications, you need admin access to get the API key.
Shows an overview of cloud and desktop flow activity. It has another option where it shows your system health where desktop flows are actively running.
AI Builder helps users extract information from text, images, structured datasets, and documents. Users can choose from templates or create their own custom models.
Process Advisor advises how current processes can be improved in two ways. You can either upload data from various sources or record yourself performing any activity.
All your databases are added here which contain all variables you want to work with. You can create a new process by selecting the database you’re comfortable with.
Self-explanatory. It is your help section.
What are the different Microsoft Power Automate Flow Types?
There are three types of flows based on how the flow is created.
Cloud Flows are online flows that start with a trigger or some action. Under Cloud flows, there are three options based on when you want the action to take place after the trigger conditions are met:
Instant Cloud Flows
You can use instant cloud flow when you want to take an action at a click of a button. Eg. Send a reminder to your sales team about an important churned customer now.
Automated Cloud Flows
Automated Cloud flows are used to follow a series of sets when your conditions are met. Eg. If any tweet mentions your company in a hashtag, you want the system to retweet the tweet and send a team message to your marketing team.
Scheduled Cloud Flows
Scheduled cloud flows can be used to carry out a set of actions periodically. Eg. Save all your email attachments in a folder at 8 AM every day.
Desktop flows are used in an offline format. You can record yourself performing a set of actions and once Microsoft Power Automate codes your actions, you can automate the flow.
Things to consider – You require coding skills here. When you record a flow, your code version will contain the action that you’ve performed. If you run, it will take the same action again and again. To prevent this, you’ll have to create generalized variables for the program to work properly.
Business Process Flows
As a business professional, this will be the most important tab. You can automate all your paper-based processes and digitize your processes with Business Process Flow. Business process flow allows you to create a standardized process for your employees to follow so you get similar outputs no matter who uses the product.
The output of business process flow is a working front-end app that can be used by your employees to perform tasks.
Things to consider – You create the business process flow in the Microsoft Power Apps interface. There will be a lot of back and forth. It is useful to work with an IT professional or a coder to get it done easily as there are multiple apps to interact with like PowerApps, Dataverse, Connectors, and Conditional settings which might be confusing for a non-coder.
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Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial: How to create a workflow using Microsoft Power Automate Templates?
Microsoft Power Automate has a huge library of templates. Let’s select a simple one for this tutorial, where we will save our Gmail attachments into our Google Drive Folder.
Step 1: Go to the templates section. If you search for “Gmail” you should find the template we’re talking about in the first row. If not, scroll down to search for it.
Step 2: After selecting the template, you’ll be asked to link your accounts. Link your accounts and when two green ticks appear in front of the connectors, you can click Create Flow.
Step 3: Once you’re on the screen, you’ll see the details of the flow on the screen. Let’s select edit to see the workflow.
You’ll be redirected to a page like this:
Step 4: Select the proper variables. Do you want to consider emails only to your inbox or only promotional messages? Take a look at the options in the drop-down.
Step 5: Let’s say you want to receive a notification every time this flow takes place. I’ll go ahead and add another step where I receive an email saying, your attachment is uploaded.
Click on the new step to see a screen like this
Step 6: Select Gmail and select send an email (V2). Fill in the details.
For the email body, don’t forget to take a look at the dynamic content. You can enter the sender email, email subject line, and other dynamic content to keep a track of the notifications.
Step 7: Once done, Save it. On the top bar, click Flow Checker to see if there are any errors or warnings. If not, move on to the next option which says Test. Try to send a test email to your email id mentioned in the steps.
Step 8: To check your flow progress – Select “My Flows” and select the flow you’ve just created. At the bottom, you’ll see a tab that shows the 28-day run history. If the status shows succeeded, your flow works without an error.
You can follow similar steps for other templates. All the Microsoft Flow templates have pre-defined steps created for easy usage.
Power Automate for Business Process Flows
One of the major use cases for Microsoft Power Automate is to create automated Business Process Flows. Now, business process flows could be anything:
- Building a front-end application for your employees to collect data in a streamlined way- eg. Building a customer service app to collect caller details
- Automating Document Processes – eg. Extracting data from invoices and uploading them into a database.
- Streamlining approvals – eg. Setting up a workflow to send content to review to relevant stakeholders
Or any other process that can be converted into a flow diagram.
What does business process flow contain?
Business process flows are divided into stages and steps. Stages are the major checkpoints. Under every stage, you can perform multiple steps. Once all steps are completed, the process moves along to the next stage.
You can also have conditional branching, loops, and validators in your flow which makes them more sophisticated to use.
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Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial: How to create an invoice processing flow from scratch?
Before even starting to work on the process in Microsoft Power Automate, we will first take a look at all the steps, datasets, tables, and connectors we will require. We need to set everything else up before we start making business flow in PowerApps.
So our flow would be simple, we want to create a flow
When we receive an Invoice in our Inbox -> Extract Data From Invoice -> Store information in a table in Excel
In our case, we will need the following:
- Connectors: Gmail, One drive, Excel
- AI Model: Invoice Processing Model
- Tables: An Excel with proper headers
So let’s start with creating the AI model first.
Building AI model
Step 1: Select AI Builder and select custom to extract data from standardized documents and click get started.
You need to have an AI Builder license for this step
Step2: You’ll be redirected to a list of action items. Select all the options that are relevant to you. In our case, we assume that the invoices are fairly standardized, hence we will select the first option
Step 3: Adding the variables
In the next step, select the type of information you would like to extract from your invoices. In this case, pre-planning the variables come in handy.
In our case, we would like to select fields for invoice numbers, invoice data, and total amount. We can also select the single-page table to select an entire table of all the items mentioned in the invoice.
For the single table, make sure you mention the number of columns and rename it properly.
Once you’ve listed all the information you want to extract, select Done and choose next.
Step 4: Adding collections
Collections are the set of files that have the same format. Upload your invoices from the same vendor in different collections. Once you upload the documents, select the fields and tables to reflect the values that you need.
Open any document that you’ve uploaded. Select detect words to see the fields that are automatically detected. Hover your mouse over the fields that you want to select. Then select the value for each field.
Tip: For the table, make sure you divide table into columns and tabs and name the header properly.
Follow the same steps for all the uploaded invoices in all the collections.
Step 5: Once done, select Train model. Then select Go to Your models. The list should show your model with the name you gave at the start.
So now, our AI model is complete. Let’s try to create a flow where we will use the AI model to extract data from our email attachment and save the information in an excel.
Step 6: Go to flows, select create an automated flow. And select the trigger that you want. In this case, we will select Recieve email on Gmail and select create.
Step 7: You’ll see a flow where only Gmail trigger is added. Select the required option. I’ll add a filter where in it processes emails with invoices in the subject line and has an attachment.
Step 8: Add the next step for processing the invoice using the AI builder. Select +New Step and select AI builder. Select “Extract custom information from documents” and select your AI model from the drop down. Add the document type and select attachment content for Form.
Step 9: Select New Action and select Excel. Select add new row as you want to extract information from invoice and add the data into a new row in your Excel document.
Tip: Make sure you create your Excel with proper rows and columns before starting this task here.
Step 10: Input all the locations of your excel, the table and the column data from the drop-down. Here, you will assign the data extracted from the invoice to the correct columns in your excel.
Step 11: Once done, select save and Test the Flow by sending an email with an invoice to the email mentioned in the flow. You can check the activity and the progress of the flow by checking My Flows or Monitor > Cloud Flow Activity.
In order to add more checks, validations and approvals, we need to add more steps.
Some related videos that can help you created sophisticated businesses process flows:
- Triggering and Responding to Power Automate Flow steps in Business Process Flows
- How to Trigger an Approval from a Business Process Flow
Limitations of using Microsoft Power Automate
Difficult for first-time users
Microsoft Power Automate is easy to use for 2-step connections like connecting Youtube and Twitter, Email and Team chats, etc. But the process gets progressively difficult when you’re trying business process flow. The entire process is set across multiple platforms and might require knowledge like WDL or creating JSON files which is a little confusing for a non-coder.
Need Office 365 to use it
If your organization uses Microsoft Office 365, great, you’ll have most of the tools to start with. But if you don’t have one, you’ll have to either buy one because in order to use Microsoft PowerApps you need a license.
Need Admin access for Business Process Flows
When you’re creating a business process flow, you’ll be working with Dataverse (known as Common Dataverse earlier) which requires admin rights. You won’t be able to use all the features of Business Process Flows without admin access.
Not a stand-alone application
Microsoft Power Automate is not a stand-alone application. It is available via Microsoft Power Apps.
The automated workflows can be used by attackers to download company data, extract passwords, or send malicious applications to your customers. In one instance, Microsoft announced that they found attackers downloading data from MNC organizations for over 200 days. Microsoft Power Automate flows to bypass security gateways which makes it possible for any third person who has access to a single company email, to get access to the entire company’s data.
Difficult to control access to Power Automate
If your company provides an Office 365 license to all the employees, and several people have the ability to create workflows, it becomes difficult to keep license limitations in check.
Data Backup stays for 30 Days
Your workflow data stays in the system only for 30 days. This becomes difficult if you’re using workflows for maintaining audit logs and for compliance-related activities.
Supports only sequential workflows
All the workflows that you’ll create in Microsoft Power Automate have to be sequential and need to follow one step after another. Adding loops is difficult and often requires intensive work.
Limitations on workflows
You can only use 250 actions per workflow (around 90 for free trial users). The limit can get exhausted quickly if you’re using loops to check the conditions again and again.
Non-intuitive navigation for simple tasks
Microsoft Power Automate can be non-intuitive in certain scenarios. For example,
- Connections are added via the option under Data and not the Connector option present in the navigation menu.
- There is no save option. There is a save as option but saves a copy of your existing workflow.
- Error messages are frequent and the error is not accompanied by a proper explanation of the cause of the error. If you save without resolving the errors, you’ll lose the entire process.
- Power automate workflows can run without a warning and there is no option to stop that.
OCR Tool is not advanced
The OCR tools for data extraction under the AI Builder is not as advanced as other tools present in the market. [Source]
Training material & customer support is not up to par
The training material is generalized which makes it difficult for a new time user to navigate. The courses provided by the Microsoft Power Automate platform are also basic. The content created by content experts on Youtube and other channels is better than documentation. The customer support points to the generic articles without diving into the core issue. [Source]
Can’t send output from one flow to the second flow
You cannot add a second flow to continue after your first flow and therefore if you want to add additional steps to your primary flow, you’ll have to create a new workflow from the scratch.
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Nanonets for Business Process Flow Automation
Nanonets is a no-code automation platform that helps businesses automate manual tasks with smart workflows without the IT team. Nanonets provides its users with an intuitive interface, drag and drops modules, and extensive customer support to make business process flow automation a breeze. Furthermore, you can set up Nanonets in 1 day without any external help!
Nanonets is a secure platform with GDPR and SOC2 certification. With role-based access options, you can control who can create workflows and gain access to the company data.
Here are some features that make Nanonets a perfect choice for Business Process Automation:
- Modern UI visual editor with drag and drop elements to create workflows of your choice
- Advanced OCR API which extracts data with >95% accuracy.
- Integrates with 5000+ applications via API and Zapier.
- Strictly no-code environment – No need to write a single code to automate business process
- Available on cloud and on-premise hosting options for your requirements.
- Maintain data logs for every action taken on the platform and be ready for audit every time.
- Deliver automatic updates to relevant stakeholders directly in their inboxes
- Role-based access control to restrict platform access and improve security
- No hidden charges
- 24×7 online chat support and personal client managers
- Choose from pre-built templates or create your own in <15 minutes
Nanonets is rated 4.9 on Capterra and G2. Over 1000+ global enterprises use Nanonets to automate manual document processes. Nanonets can be used across industries like finance, logistics, banking, BPO to automate processes like
- Customer Onboarding
- KYC Processes
- Accounts Payable
- Document Verification
- Data Extraction
- Data Enhancement
- Expense Management
- Payment Automation
- Document Management
- Digitizing Documents
If you work with invoices, and receipts or worry about ID verification, check out Nanonets online OCR or PDF text extractor to extract text from PDF documents for free. Click below to learn more about Nanonets Enterprise Automation Solution.
Invoice automation on Nanonets vs Power Automate
We’ve already seen the steps to automate invoice processing on Power Automate in the tutorial mentioned above. Let’s see how to do it on Nanonets.
Tutorial: Automated Invoice Processing on Nanonets
Step 1: Sign in to your account
Sign in to your Nanonets account. You’ll see a screen similar to the one shown in the figure below.
Focus on the bottom part of the screen which says, choose to get started. Select “Invoices” Pre-built extractor from the screen.
Step 2: Add the invoices to the pre-trained invoice model
Once you select the Invoices, and pre-built extractor model, you’ll see a screen like the one shown in the figure below. You’ll have to upload your invoices in your next step.
Select the +Upload Files button to import your invoices. Nanonets allows you to upload your invoices from Email, DropBox, Google Drive, your Device, via Zapier or create your own API integration without writing a single code. Select the data source of your choice and upload invoices.
Once you select your invoices and select upload, wait for a minute or two while the files are being uploaded. When uploaded, you will see all your files on the app like this:
If you want to upload more files, select the +Upload Files button at the bottom.
Step 3: Check all the labels
The invoice model extracts all the necessary information from your invoices. You can check all the data and their labels when you click any file.
Once you open the file, you can see all the extracted data, their labels, and their position in the document on the left-hand side screen.
Step 4: Approve the files
Once you’re done with all the changes, approve the file to save all of your changes. Once you do that, you’ll see that the particular file is verified. There is a check in front of the document under the Manual Review column.
You can choose to manually review all the invoices or go ahead and extract the data from the files.
Step 5: Extract the data
To extract data, select the Download Extracted Data Button on the bottom of the screen. You’ll see a screen like this. Select the fields that you want in you extracted file or you can select export all fields to extract all the extracted data.
Once you’ve selected the fields you want to export, scroll down to select the file type.
Alternatively, you can also use auto export workflows which will send extracted data to the selected data sources automatically.
From the Workflow option on the left, you can add extra checks for your invoice processing model.
Enhancing Data Quality
You can enhance the extracted data with available options.
Add steps to add approval stakeholders, the matching conditions for invoices from your database, validate vendors, and flag error invoices based on the rules.
You can export your data in various formats and connect Nanonets with the software of your choice with API integrations.
Nanonets vs Power Automate
We’ve seen how to perform a similar task on Nanonets and Power Automate. Through the steps, we saw some differences in how the platforms operate. Here, in the table below, we will discuss the compare Microsoft Power Automate and Nanonets platforms.
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Is Power Automate a correct choice for you and your business?
Whether Microsoft Power Automate is a good choice for your business depends on multiple factors mentioned below:
Availability of Developers in your team
A non-coder might not be able to use Microsoft Power Automate at its fullest capability. You’ll need to allocate some developer resources to carry out complex operations, fix errors, integrate tools, and maintain variables as required.
Microsoft Power Automate plans under per-user and per-flow categories. Per User, plans have low performance. Per-flow plans have the highest performance, but the plan costs around $100/flow/month. This price will increase with add-ons like AI builder and additional RPA capabilities. If we consider 10 flows with AI builder, the price reaches $1500/month. And it keeps increasing as you can’t control who creates a new workflow.
In contrast, tools like Nanonets cost $499/month. Check out Nanonet’s pricing plans.
Do you need to connect simple tools or do you want to carry out complex tasks? Do you need it to automate paper document processes, build front-end apps for employees, connect business software, etc? Based on your requirement, you need to evaluate other tools along with Microsoft Power Automate, rate your experience, and select the alternative.
If you’re already using the Microsoft environment, shifting to Power Automate can be an easy choice as Microsoft Power Automate integrates easily with existing Microsoft products. It can be a little trickier to connect other apps, and sometimes the connectors don’t work well and you might end up losing data.
IT team supervision
In order to prevent license over-charges, IT teams need to supervise account activity, stay alert on who is creating workflows and try to keep checking for malicious workflows. IT team needs to actively carry out these tasks to prevent phishing activities.
Like we discussed above, Microsoft Power Automate has some security breaches. In order to prevent this from happening, you need to have a very strong security check, an active team looking out for anomalies, and monitoring account usage on a regular basis.
If you have dedicated resources, Microsoft Power Automate might be a good choice for you.
Requirement of OCR capabilities
Microsoft Power Automate has OCR API under AI builder. The OCR model is not on par with other vendors in the market like Nanonets. If you are heavily reliant on the OCR features to automate your manual processes, you can opt for options like Nanonets.
Time to Implement
With admin requirements, the implementation of Microsoft Power Automate can be delayed. If you want to get started right away with no delays, this might not be the right choice for your business.
Even with the above-mentioned pointers, your team must evaluate Microsoft Power Automate on the basis of all your requirements and then come to a solution. According to the pointers, Microsoft Power Automate might be a good choice for organizations using a Microsoft environment, having a lot of IT staff to overlook implementation, fewer flows, and high budgets.
Business process automation will become a necessity for businesses in the future due to all the improved efficiency, productivity, and security. The market is still in a nascent stage and will improve over time with better features and improvements. Businesses need to start adopting the technology now to reap the benefits in the future.
In this blog, we evaluated two software, Microsoft Power Automate, and Nanonets for business process automation. We saw tutorials on how to perform invoice automation on both platforms.
Microsoft Power Automate has a lot to offer to enterprises from powerful integrations to enhanced connectivity options (more like Zapier!). As the software continues to evolve, it will be interesting to see what the new additions to the platform will be.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Microsoft Power Automate for free?
Microsoft Power is not free for all users. You can use the free version to access the Microsoft Power Automate platform with limited capabilities. The platform is free if your organization has access via Microsoft Office 365 subscription.
What is Power Automate vs Microsoft Flow?
Microsoft Flow is the older version of Microsoft Power Automate. On the branding side, there is no difference between Microsft Flow and Microsoft Power Automate but there are some differences between the two platforms if we look at some features.
Microsoft Power Automate has cloud deployment and does not overburden your systems as Microsoft Flow did. Microsoft Power Automate is a low code environment as compared to its earlier counterpart, Microsoft Flow. Microsoft Flow was more driven towards creating rule-based workflows whereas Microsoft Power Automate is geared towards enhanced unattended robotic process automation in organizations.
What can Microsoft Power Automate automate?
Microsoft Power Automate can automate any data sync between 500+ different data sources, create front-end apps for efficient data collection, automate manual processes and send real-time notifications to required stakeholders. Microsoft Power Automate can automate any process as required.
Is Power Automate an RPA tool?
Yes, Power Automate is a Robotic process automation tool. It can be used to automate anything from a data sync to complex multi-step processes like invoice management, approvals, and more.
What is the difference between Power Apps and Power Automate?
Microsoft Power apps is geared towards creating a front-end User interface for efficient data collection by using connectors. Microsoft Power Automate gives users the ability to use the data from the interface to carry out further activities like storing, analyzing, or enhancing.
Is Power Automate the right choice for small businesses?
Microsoft Power Automate requires a lot of resources to carry out automated processes perfectly. Given the high budgets, developer requirements, and advanced security requirements, it might not be the best choice for small businesses.