End to End Enterprise Automation with Power Automate UI flows

At this year’s Microsoft Ignite 2019, we announced a paradigm shifting enhancement to Microsoft Power Automate with the addition of UI flows which supports RPA capabilities.

Automation is a major driver for modernizing IT and creating efficiency gains for today’s businesses. For several years, Power Automate has offered industry leading digital process automation with connectors to 275+ of the most widely used enterprise applications, rich AI capabilities with the new AI Builder feature, and native integration to some of the most widely used ecosystems such as Office 365, Dynamics 365, and Azure.  With the addition of UI flows, Power Automate offers a single automation service that enables automation across your broad IT ecosystem.

Automation for applications without APIs or Connectors

Robotic process automation is the technology required to automate applications (or certain functionality in applications) that do not have APIs or Connectors. Typically, these applications are older, and the new UI flows capability with Power Automate is designed specifically to automate these older desktop and web-based applications.

The new UI flows connector enables users to record click steps on an application user interface (UI). The recording can include mouse clicks, keyboard use, and data entry, the UI flows recording can be saved and then added to any automated, instant or scheduled flow.

Since UI flows is a feature of Power Automate, it offers the same easy to follow Power Automate design elements which are a hallmark of the service.  With UI flows, you can easily see which click steps you recorded and determine if you need to make any changes to your recording.  The changes can be made very easily and within the context of the rest of your flow.  This enables you to make changes to only parts of the flow that need to be updated, without you having to remake or edit the entire flow.

How do UI flows work?

There are two types of user interfaces that UI flows can automate in the current public preview:

  • Desktop applications in Windows – Compatible with Windows 10, Windows Server 2016, or Windows Server 2019 machines running 64-bit operating systems.
  • Web sites / applications – Compatible with web sites in the next version of Microsoft Edge or Google Chrome.

Desktop UI flows support a variety of Windows applications, including Microsoft applications like Word, Excel and Outlook, as well as 3rd party or custom applications. Desktop UI flows use something called the UI Automation framework, which is included in Windows. This means it supports Win32 and WPF applications, for example. However, there are some Windows applications that are not accessible, so they are not currently supported in Desktop UI flows.

Web UI flows use an open-source framework called Selenium to record and automate web applications. Selenium is very popular across the industry and is even what we have been using to automate tests for our own product.

Attended and Unattended automation

There are two different ways that robotic process automation is run: attended and unattended.

Attended automation is when the flow runs inside an existing user’s session on their PC. With attended automation you can pick out just the most cumbersome and repetitive parts of a process to automate with a UI flow, but since a person is still at their PC they can handle errors or fill in additional details if required (such as logging in). This can achieve many of the benefits of automation without having to automate the entire process.

Attended automation integrates best with an instant flow or business process flow. For example, you can kick off a UI flow to get data from a legacy system based on a button click in a Power Apps canvas app, or, at the end of a stage in a business process flow, copy data into another app. The public preview of attended automation will be enabled for all new environments by the end of the week and enabled for all existing environments before the end of November.

Unattended automation is when the flow runs on a separate machine that does not have a user logged in. The advantage of this approach is it can be scaled out across many virtual machines in Azure, for example. However, this means that you need to automate every aspect of the process.

Unattended automation integrates best with a scheduled flow or an automated flow. These flows trigger in the background based on events that happen, and then then run at any time in the cloud. We now have a private preview of unattended automation available. You can sign up here to request to join the private preview.

What’s next with UI flows?

In addition to unattended automation, which is currently in private preview, we have a number of future improvements already planned for UI flows. A couple examples include:

  • Dedicated support for more application types – Create fast and robust automation scripts by leveraging libraries designed for commonly used applications that may not be currently supported by the UI Automation framework.
  • More advanced editor & recorder capabilities – We will make it possible to create more sophisticated UI automations by building additional business logic and a richer set of actions and configuration directly in the UI flow.

All of the UI flow capabilities now in preview are planned for General Availability in the first half of 2020.

Automate and Enable Digital Transformation Across your Entire Ecosystem

With Power Automate, you can use a single automation service for both API-based and non-API applications.

With the addition of UI flows, you can now connect your legacy systems to the modern world, by creating automated workflows across those systems with productivity tools in Office 365, business processes in Dynamics 365, and also the powerful computing logic and storage offered with Azure. Learn more about how to get started with UI flows on our documentation site.

Our customers are already experiencing the unparalleled capabilities of Power Automate and you should check out the great example we showed at this year’s Microsoft Ignite keynote:

Let your organization start benefiting from powerful and secure automation.  Be sure to join our growing Power Automate community and participate in discussions, provide insights, and influence product roadmap. If you’re not already, be sure to follow the Power Automate blog to get news on the latest Power Automate updates, learn how Power Automate is a secure service, and read our whitepaper on best practices for deploying Power Automate in your organization.  Also, be sure to check out the Power Automate tutorials page and our video channels hosted by Flow engineers who will demonstrate how to create sophisticated flows within a matter of minutes. Go to flow.microsoft.com, to get started with Power Automate today and begin your preview of RPA with UI flows and other automation capabilities available with Power Automate!