What is the Microsoft Power Platform?

Data is more important than ever in the decision-making process, but perhaps even more important is how users access and interact with that data. In any organization, the ability to react quickly to the changing market is imperative. With so many tools available to transform data, interact with it and share insights with others, it can be easy to get lost.

The idea behind Microsoft’s Power Platform came from the realization that organizations have more and more data than ever before and no simple way to harness it and gain insights quickly. The Power Platform is a powerful set of applications that allow you to automate processes, build applications to collect data, analyze the data, and create virtual agents. 

What makes Power Platform so accessible to any customer is its completely code-free environment. Any user with any level of experience can get comfortable in Microsoft’s Power Platform suite, making it an extremely powerful tool for business users who already have some level of understanding of their data. In this blog, we’ll discuss the primary components of the Microsoft Power Platform and how to get started with each one. 

What is Microsoft Power Platform?

power platform ecosystem diagram

Microsoft Power Platform is the low-code ecosystem that spans Office 365, Azure, Dynamics, and standalone applications. Each tool in the suite comes in the form of a simple graphical user interface that can be used by any business user or developer with no prior experience needed. When we’re talking about the Power Platform, we’re specifically talking about the four primary products:

  • Power BI
  • Power Apps
  • Power Automate
  • Power Virtual Agents

Data in Power Platform is accessed by way of over 275 different connectors, all built to seamlessly integrate with each application in the suite. Also worth noting is the Microsoft Dataverse, where all data interacted with inside of the Power Platform will exist. This common data service allows easy access from each application and is easy to get started with.

What is Microsoft Power BI?

Power BI diagram of Power BI mobile, service, and desktop

Power BI is Microsoft’s flagship self-service business analytics tool. Its collection of services, apps, and connectors work seamlessly to turn data into visually immersive insights. Whether your data exists in a cloud application or data warehouse, Excel spreadsheets, or directly from a 3rd party API, the Power BI suite lets you easily connect, visualize, and share. The three components of the Power BI suite are Power BI Desktop, Power BI Service, and the respective mobile apps for Windows, iOS, and Android devices. Power BI Desktop is a free application installed on a local computer that lets you:

  • Connect to data (including workflows)
  • Transform, clean, and create a data model
  • Create visuals
  • Create reports (collections of visuals)

Once you’ve created a report, you can publish and share the report via the Power BI service. The Power BI Service acts as an online repository for you to manage workspaces and reports, as well as share with users internally and externally. Some users may only require access to the Power BI Service if they aren’t participating in any report creation, while creators will need access to both. 

The Power BI ecosystem is an extremely powerful way to create and promote content, and the development lifecycle is made easy through deployment pipelines. From a pricing standpoint, Power BI Pro licenses start at $9.99 per month per user, and Premium capacity depends on the number of users and deployment capacity. Organizations at the E5 level of Office get Pro licenses for free. Because of its scale and integration with the other Microsoft tools, pricing on Power BI is hard to beat. 

While it may be the quickest way to get embedded in the Power Platform suite of applications, Power BI is just the tip of the iceberg. Looking to go from zero to hero in Power BI quickly? Check out this “Dashboard in an Hour” presentation from our Principal Consultant, Gavin Pedersen.

What are Microsoft Power Apps?

an example of Power Apps

Power Apps is a suite of apps, services, and connectors that provides a rapid development environment to build customized applications for your business. Apps built within this environment utilize rich business logic and workflow capabilities to automate manual operations and digitize processes. They can be configured to run via a browser, as well as a tablet or mobile phone. All of this capability comes in a user-friendly, code-free interface. There are four major components to the Power Apps suite:

  • Canvas apps
  • Model-driven apps
  • Portals
  • Microsoft Dataverse

Canvas apps are quite literally a blank canvas for you to connect to more than 200 data sources. They let you individualize the end-user experience the way you want to, as well as the interactivity and design. Model-driven apps start with an existing data model and allow you to create forms, views, and other components. Model-driven applications will automatically generate a user interface that is compatible with multiple devices but offers less full customization than a canvas app. 

Next, Portals help you create external websites that allow users to sign in externally and create or view data within your Dataverse. Portals can be useful for customers, suppliers, or contracting companies participating in internal business processes. Lastly, the Dataverse is the data platform that exists behind the entire Power Platform and allows you to store and model data. It’s the core of other Microsoft services like Dynamics 365. 

Within the Dataverse, you can create custom tables and manage columns when you need to. From a pricing standpoint, Power Apps comes with a subscription if you’re already using Office 365 Enterprise or higher, or starts at $20 per month per user. There is also a community plan available that can be used as a free environment to learn in. Power Apps use cases are seemingly endless with different business needs for different customers and can be integrated with the other tools inside of Microsoft’s Power Platform to customize or update data visualized inside Power BI.

What is Microsoft Power Automate?

a Power Automate system example

Power Automate is a powerful workflow automation tool that allows you to connect different systems together to do anything from automating business processes, sending automatic reminders for past due tasks, moving data from system to system, or automating manual tasks. With thousands of prebuilt templates, you can begin automating processes almost immediately after connecting your accounts. Power Automate gives you the ability to create three different types of flows:

  • Automated flows
  • Instant flows
  • Scheduled flows

While pretty self-explanatory, automated flows create an automation triggered by a specific event such as an arrival of an email or mention of a name on social media. Simply connecting and authenticating with the applications involved in your flow will establish the process, and enabling it will have it run automatically each time the specified conditions are met.

Instant flows are triggered by the click of a button. You can automate repetitive tasks by adding a button on your mobile device or tablet to send a reminder to the team for timesheets or to request an approval in Teams or SharePoint. 

Lastly, scheduled flows work similarly to the automated flows; only they are set to run on a schedule regardless of whether specific conditions are met or not. These can be used for data uploads or any other tasks that would normally be performed on a regular basis. 

Combined with the other tools in the Power Platform suite, Power Automate is a great tool to fully automate your BI solutions. Similar to Power Apps, it can be used for free with an enterprise-level O365 subscription or starting at $15 per month per user.

What are Microsoft Power Virtual Agents?

virtual agent example flow

The final cornerstone of Microsoft’s Power Platform is Power Virtual Agents. The Power Virtual Agents tool is designed to handle the entire chatbot development lifecycle, all the way from dialog creation to the deployment of the virtual agent to channels like Slack, Skype, Teams, etc. 

Their service is also integrated with the rest of the Power Platform, enabling you to automate flows based on triggers within chat sessions. These bots can be created easily without data scientists or developers and can be used to address support questions on your website, common employee questions, or sales leads. 

Power Virtual Agents is available as a web app or as an integration inside of Teams, and the features are primarily the same. Licensing for Power Virtual Agents starts at $1,000 per month for every 2000 sessions, and an additional $450 for every additional 1,000 sessions. 

Why use Microsoft Power Platform?

The Microsoft Power Platform gives organizations the ability to empower employees to create high-value solutions for themselves and others. In a study done with Forrester, Microsoft claims a 502% return on investment over just three years for Power Platform adopters. Probably the single greatest source of return comes from efficiency gains in existing work processes. 

With Power Platform, organizations have been able to replace entire third-party applications and integrations with built-in tools developed in-house. Some of the most common use cases for the Platform include automating approval workflows, employee onboarding experiences, service requests, and attendance management. In each case, organizations can create Power Apps that collect responses, Power Automate flows that manage the movement of data collected, and Power BI to gain insights from the data collected. 

While each of these solutions can be developed rapidly, it’s important to consider the factors that could impact the ability of your business to build Power Platform solutions quickly while maintaining security and compliance. A strong partnership between your IT organization and the business will be required to ensure each solution created doesn’t bypass existing constraints or processes to keep data secure. There may be existing best practices or technology that should be utilized to accomplish a task you’re looking to automate within Power Platform, so multiple perspectives need to be considered. 

Closing

As Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic.”  The Microsoft Power Platform is designed with end-users in mind and provides an easy-to-use one-stop shop for turning end-to-end business processes into magic. Ironically enough, Clarke also said, “If the artist did not know his goal, even the most miraculous of tools could not find it for him.” The Power Platform builds its entire value proposition on putting the development power in the hands of your users with the knowledge of business process and decision logic. It allows organizations to step towards a self-service analytics culture by putting the power of application and insights development in the hands of business users with little or no technological expertise. 

Power BI allows users to analyze data and build visualizations from almost any data source while building complex data models all within the same tool. Power Apps provides a blank canvas for organizations to customize how employees or customers interact with, contribute, or manipulate data within their source systems. Power Automate allows for powerful automation of thousands of different processes, and can be leveraged to connect each of the Power Platform tools together. 

To cap it all off, Virtual Agents can be developed to handle common questions on internal web pages or even organize inbound sales leads. Regardless of your use case, comparing all of the components within Microsoft’s Power Platform can be overwhelming. At phData, we recognize the need for unique solutions to match unique business needs. For some organizations, out-of-the-box functionality can get you where you need to be with little ramp-up time. Others require more iterative and tailored solutions. 

In either case, we’re here to help. As a Microsoft Gold Partner, phData is passionate about enabling organizations to develop, share, and utilize the entire Microsoft Power Platform. We help organizations of all sizes build Power Platform solutions in a matter of weeks, enabling you to go from data to insights in as little time as possible. 

To learn more about what the Microsoft Power Platform can do for you, reach out to our experts for a personalized consultation. 

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