In this blog post, we will deep dive into Microsoft Power Automate (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.


What is Microsoft Power Automate used for?

Power Automate can automate repetitive tasks, and here are 6 Microsoft Power Automate example workflows that give a basic understanding of how you can use the intelligent automation platform:

Perform a task

Think of any task that requires you to switch applications. That task can be automated with Power Automate workflows like Zapier. 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 enterprise applications. This updates business data 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.

Automate Processes

Microsoft Power Automate can be used to automate business processes with rule-based workflows created via Power Apps. e.g., Invoice Approval Process

Mailroom Automation

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.

Collect Data

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 the software.


Want to automate manual processes? Try Nanonets and automate any manual process in 15 minutes. Create custom AI models, connect over 5000+ applications and use intelligent automation to its fullest. Start your free trial today.


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 Microsoft Power Automate Flow Types?

There are three types of flows based on how the flow is created.

Cloud Flows

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

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 some 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.

Want to automate repetitive manual tasks? Check our Nanonets Intelligent Automation Platform. Extract data from invoices, identity cards, or any document on autopilot!


Tutorial: 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.

Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step 1
Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step 1- Go to the templates section

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.

Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step 3
Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step 3

You’ll be redirected to a page like this:

Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step3 Edit Flow
Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step3 Edit Flow

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

Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step 5 - Add another step
Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step 5 - Add another step

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.

Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step 6 - Sending Gmail notification
Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step 6 - Sending Gmail notification

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.

Power Automate Tutorial - Step 8 - checking Flow progress
Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial - Step 8 - checking Flow progress

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.


Want to use start with business process automation? Check our Nanonets Intelligent Automation Platform. Create workflows, automate tasks and optimize performance. Start your trial now!


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

Building AI Model on Power Automate platform
Building AI Model in Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial

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.

Adding variables in AI model in Power Automate
Adding variables in AI model in Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial

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.

Adding table in AI model on Power Automate platform
Adding table in AI model in Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial

Once you’ve listed all the information you want to extract, select Done and choose next.

Step 4: Adding collections

Collections are 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.

Adding collections in AI model
Adding collections in AI model in Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial

Tip: For the table, make sure you divide the table into columns and tabs and name the header properly.

Selecting Tables in Power Automate AI model
Adding collections in AI model in Microsoft Power Automate Tutorial

Follow the same steps for all the uploaded invoices in all the collections.

Step 5: Once done, select the 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 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.

Adding dyanmic email content in Power Automate workflow
Adding the automatic gmail content

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.

Adding a step to collect invoices from Gmail automatically on Power Automate
Adding a step to collect invoices from Gmail automatically on Power Automate

Step 9: Select New Action and select Excel. Select add new row as you want to extract information from the invoice and add the data into a new row in your Excel document.

Adding Extracted information to Excel
Adding Extracted information to Excel
💡
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.

Final look of adding information to Excel in workflow
Final look of adding information to 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.

Limitations of using Microsoft Power Automate

Power automate is a great platform for people looking to automate manual processes. It has many upsides, but here are some cons of using 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 are 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.

Security issues

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.

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 are not as advanced as other tools present in the market. [Source]

💡
You can use OCR software like Nanonets along with Power Automate to automate manual tasks. Try Nanonets OCR Software for free. 

Work without limitations with Nanonets. Extract data using advanced OCR software & automate processes with advanced workflows. Get Started with Nanonets today.


Nanonets for Business Process Flow Automation

Nanonets is a no-code intelligent 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
  • 24x7 online chat support and personal client managers

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.


Nanonets vs Power Automate for document process automation

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.


Nanonets

Power Automate

User-friendly

Very easy to use with a visual editor and intuitive interface. 

Can be confusing for first-time users as multiple steps are performed across different platforms eg. Power Automate, Power Apps, Dataverse

Coding Expertise

No-code platform. No need to write a single line of code. 

Drag and drop but across multiple apps can get confusing

Free Trial

Yes. A forever free model is also present.  

Free model but you need to work with a Microsoft environment and limited apps. 

Security 

Secure platform with SOC2 and GDPR certification, role-based access, and a controlled data environment. 

Secure platform but can be used by attackers to extract company information as flows bypass security requirements. 

Accessibility 

Cloud data is easily accessible by the users on the go. 

The data stored in the cloud can be accessed by the users via application. 

Complexity 

With drag and drop options, it is easy-to-use software. Even all complex workflows can be created without any code. 

Easy to set up basic workflows. Would require a developer to set up complex processes. 

Integrations

Can be integrated with 5000+ apps via Zapier. 

Can integrate with 500+ connectors till now. 

OCR Capabilities

A high-quality OCR API with an accuracy of over 95%

Great OCR capabilities

Business process workflows 

Can be used to automate manual parts of business processes like documents, approval, incident management, etc. 

Can be used to automate data capture processes with front-end apps, and automate document processes and approvals. 

Pricing

Transparent And Easy Pricing Plans. Plans start from $499 per month with over $0.1 to process every additional document. Custom Options are available. 

Four ways to get access to Microsoft Power Automate. There are multiple licensing options. 


Pay per flow starts at $500 per month with additional addons for OCR capabilities ($500 per month) and RPA capabilities ($100 per flow per month) which add to the price. 

Support 

24x7 chat support, email support, and a separate customer manager to resolve all the queries. 

No live chat support. Direct support options start from $180/month.


Want to automate repetitive manual tasks? Save Time, Effort & Money while enhancing efficiency!


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.

Budget

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.

Requirements

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.

You can consider easy-to-use automation software like Nanonets. Start your free trial or request a free product tour.

Microsoft Environment

If you’re already using the Microsoft environment, shifting to Power Automate can be an easy choice as it integrates easily with existing Microsoft products.

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.

Strong Security

As 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.

Use OCR software to extract data with >95% accuracy. Start your free trial or request a free product tour.

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.  

Conclusion

Business process automation will become a necessity for businesses in the future due to 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 BPM software, Microsoft Power Automate, and Nanonets for process automation.

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 are 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.


Nanonets online OCR & OCR API have many interesting use cases that could optimize your business performance, save costs and boost growth. Find out how Nanonets' use cases can apply to your product.


August 2022: The post was originally published in July 2022 and was updated in August 2022.