Every human being has a superpower: the power of cooperation. When we join forces, each of us bringing our unique strengths, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s why all the great superhero teams — the Avengers, the Justice League, the Fantastic Four — are comprised of characters with wildly distinctive but complementary superpowers. The unity of powerful forces works not just for comic book heroes but also for regular folks like us. And, it turns out, it works for technology too.
For most of us, our work problems are too complex (and not nearly evil enough) to solve by shooting lasers out of our eyes or becoming a human torch. Our problem-solving superpowers are enabled by our tools, and these days they’re increasingly software tools. Microsoft’s Power Platform is the enterprise software equivalent of a superhero team: combining a set of solutions with specific strengths into a whole that can solve any number of business problems at scale.
This super-team didn’t form because of a freak incident like, say, exposure to cosmic rays during a scientific mission to outer space. Power Platform was deliberately built by Microsoft, component-by-component, over a five-year period with each tool succeeding on its own merits before joining the greater team. By the way, if you’d like to read more about the power of Power Platform, please reference my first article in this series.
The Power Platform Super-Team
The first component of Power Platform to launch was Power BI which bestows upon its users the power of data-driven situational awareness. Power BI debuted in July 2015 with the super strength of sophisticated analytics and interactive visualizations created through a user interface that’s so friendly you don’t have to be a data scientist or designer to assemble your own data dashboards from basic building blocks.
Next came Power Apps, in October 2015, which enables the assembly of real desktop and mobile apps with intuitive user interfaces from readymade components using little to no code. Power Apps is a rapid application development environment that empowers “citizen developers” to build custom apps on a what-you-see-is-what-you-get canvas. Through sophistication masked by simplicity, it confers on non-developers the power to act on their own to solve business challenges with technology.
Power Automate was originally released as Microsoft Flow in October 2016 to help automate everything from simple push notifications and content management to complex business processes. At its Ignite event in November 2019, Microsoft added AI and robotic process automation (RPA) capabilities to Flow, renamed it Power Automate, and added it to the Power Platforms team. The AI Builder aspect of Power Automate is a turnkey toolkit that lets citizen developers add intelligence to apps and processes, like pulling data from scanned documents or interpreting sentiment in text, without the need for coding or data science skills. The UI flows aspect of Power Automate records and plays back user interface actions for applications that don’t have easy-to-use or complete APIs available.
During the same November 2019 Ignite event, Microsoft completed the Power Platform team with the launch of Power Virtual Agents. This tool makes it simple for subject matter experts to create powerful bots using a guided, no-code graphical interface. Power Virtual Agents provides customer support teams with the power of conversational AI without having to deal with the complex code required to deploy it. Power Virtual Agents frees human agents from responding to common, easy-to-answer inquiries and enables them to tackle more complex matters. It also empowers customers to help themselves and get faster, personalized answers 24/7.
Each of these tools provides organizations with powerful new capabilities. Combined into Power Platform, they form a super-team that can handle a huge swath of any organization’s technology needs — all with little to no custom code. Fundamentally, these tools help organizations do four things: 1) Act, 2) Automate, 3) Analyze and, 4) Ask/Answer. Together, they help companies operate more efficiently while improving employee experiences and customer engagement.
Here’s a case study in how one organization used Power Platform to pull all its operational technology needs into a single place for its sales and service staff.
Case Study: “The Hub”
One of our clients is a global chemical company that went public over 60 years ago and has grown to over $14.6 billion in sales and nearly 50,000 employees. One of the keys to this company’s success is that its salespeople are also its field sales force. That level of service and dual expertise is tough to coordinate at such enormous scale. That’s where Power Platform comes in.
Previously, getting one of the company’s sales/service teams ready for a customer or prospect appointment was a hard slog. The staff drew from a huge range of company and customer data to prepare to answer both sales and service questions, and the data needed to be readily at hand. Preparatory information ranged from customer insights, sales performance, and service history to cross-sell opportunities, ordering, and tracking information. The problem was that these disparate data sets weren’t easy to consolidate in one place and hard to access at all when the staff was away from the office.
Using Power Platform, Avanade helped the chemical giant develop a single, simple, integrated software portal for their sales and service teams called The Hub – from idea to app – in just six weeks. Three of the four primary components of Microsoft’s Power Platform were used to build the initial version of The Hub.
The primary interface of The Hub is a mobile one, designed with Power Apps, which features a grid of launch buttons for finger-tip availability of functions the field teams need. The Hub’s key features are served by data pulled from the the company’s databases and processed by Power Automate. And, in sections where the user benefits from interacting with rich business intelligence visualizations and dashboards, Power BI analyzes and delivers those data displays.
Sometimes, super-strengths have added replication and amplification powers. Such is the case with Power BI and Power Automate. Now that they’ve been created for The Hub, the Power BI visualizations need not be limited to use in this app but can be distributed through various mediums included in other apps. The same concept is true for Power Automate. The flows developed for The Hub can be reused for various types of solutions, apps, and automation.
Version 1 of The Hub didn’t employ Power Virtual Agents, but it can easily be included in an upcoming version in very useful ways. For instance, company representatives could communicate with Power Virtual Agent bots when they need a rapid response to general customer questions for which there are consistent, standard answers. For instance: “How much discount do we provide if the customer wants to buy more than 500 units?” Answer: “X%”. Or, for example, if a customer wants to know if the company has a certain product in stock, Power Virtual Agents can query Dynamics or any other system and display that information instantly.
Bringing It All Together
It’s daunting to think about your organization’s technological challenges as one big, hairy problem — better to break it down into types of problems, discrete actions, and step-by-step solutions. The team of Power Platform solutions work well on their own and even better together. With Power Platform a company’s technology resources are no longer confined to one department but are available across the organization – uniting the forces of IT experts and business subject matter specialists with new super-capacity to work on higher-order digital transformation and accelerate the company’s competitive advantage.