Microsoft tackles ‘hyperautomation’ with Power Automate RPA update

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Microsoft this week expanded into process capture and analytics with the release of Microsoft Process Advisor. This extends the reach of Microsoft Power Automate, the company’s robotic process automation (RPA) and cloud integration platform.

These updates will help Microsoft’s Power Automate strategy scale beyond RPA into the broader hyperautomation market, which Gartner expects to grow from $481.6 billion in 2020 to $596 billion in 2022.

“The idea of ‘automating automation’ is core to our strategy,” Microsoft Power Automate product manager Stephen Siciliano told VentureBeat. Process Advisor gives organizations the ability to capture processes for further analysis or as templates for creating more full-fledged automations, he added.

Siciliano said, “Microsoft’s goal is to provide an automation platform that can be used by anyone — from business users up to IT developers and everyone in between.” His team is focused on enabling deep integration with the entire Microsoft ecosystem.

As part of its developer-oriented Build 2021 conference this week, Microsoft disclosed general availability of new process advisory capabilities that help users identify processes best suited for automation from within Power Automate.

Process mining has traditionally referred to software that analyzes enterprise application logs generated by ERP and CRM systems to tease apart existing workflows. Process capture complements process mining by making it easier to capture and analyze processes that span multiple applications and cloud services.

Combining various process mining, capture, and analysis capabilities has proven increasingly useful as customers look to improve business processes while they automate them.

Automation governance, cloud focus

Microsoft has seen significant traction with the recent announcement that Power Automate would be included in Windows 10, which means over 1 billion devices now have access to automation initiatives. Power Automate provides a free onramp for developing basic RPA bots that automate legacy and cloud workflows like Zapier and IFTTT.

Azure-originator Microsoft has focused on cloud RPA to provide central management and governance for these automations. This reduces the overhead of deployment and management for organizations, compared to traditional RPA approaches that required dedicated servers and deployments to manage. Power Automate also supports a wide range of integrations via more than 475 connectors.

Another interesting innovation has been the integration of Power Automate into an on-premises gateway using Azure Relay to connect the inside of corporate networks to the cloud. The latest release of Power Automate Desktop integrates this capability into the install so users don’t have to manage a separate program on their computer. The automation exhibits characteristics similar to a cloud service but runs locally to reduce the effects of latency and connectivity issues.

Power Automate native cloud integrations allow users to build automations across cloud services in a couple of clicks. Microsoft says it has seen greater adoption of these cloud workflows compared with traditional RPA automation.

“When our customers have previous implementations with other RPA vendors, they generally don’t just translate their RPA as-is, sticking with desktop flows,” Siciliano said. “Instead, they usually take the opportunity to move to cloud flows when possible.”

Expanding beyond RPA

The Redmond, Washington-based tech giant is seeing the same type of fast-growing RPA market described by Gartner and others. Siciliano noted that RPA is often expanded to include the low-code cloud-based automation space.

Microsoft has had the luxury of teasing apart the key aspects of this rapidly shifting automation tooling landscape to craft a promising alternative to existing tools. Although RPA has been one of the fastest-growing markets, it is quickly evolving beyond tools for cutting and pasting data between applications using screen scraping techniques to enable more sophisticated and scalable workflows via APIs.

The company said it intends to keep the platform open so enterprises can integrate into best-of-breed capabilities from leading RPA vendors like UiPath, Blue Prism, and Automation Anywhere and process mining vendors like Fortress IQ and Celonis.

Microsoft is a relative newcomer to the process automation space, but the company boosted its efforts considerably with last year’s acquisition of RPA specialist Softomotive.

While a late start might be a disadvantage for some companies entering a new market, it could help Microsoft, which has famously employed the “extend and embrace philosophy” across sectors to overcome first-mover rivals in areas like spreadsheets and word processing. Remember Lotus 1-2-3 or WordPerfect?

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