The first quarter of 2020 was a busy period for IT departments worldwide, as many struggled to adjust to remote working, which became the new normal for businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic. Unfortunately, a lot of organisations were not prepared for widespread remote working, lacking the infrastructure needed to facilitate it.

Some of the most common issues during the initial weeks of lockdown included a lack of licenses/capacity for VPN solutions, lack of laptop availability, poor or no video conferencing solutions and an over reliance of on-premises solutions. Now that the dust has settled a little, companies should take the time to re-evaluate their IT cloud strategy and make the necessary adjustments.

One improvement is to move workloads to cloud services like Microsoft 365 or create hybrid environments where on-premises functionality is required for legacy system integration, compliance or functional gaps in cloud services. To assist with this move, there are a variety of migration tools available from Microsoft and third-party vendors, like Quest, that streamline the migration of email to Exchange Online and files to SharePoint to provide an enhanced Teams experience, beyond the typical meeting and chat features.

However, moving to the cloud is only the first step in your journey. Now that you have the potential to access your email and files from any location on any device, what should you do next to take advantage of your new cloud toolkit?

This is the first instalment of a series of blog posts discussing the options for potential next steps for organisations.

  1. Process evolution through automation using the Power Platform
  2. Securing cloud identities and devices
  3. Data security with sensitivity labels and compliance
  4. Document and forms processing with Project Cortex

In this post we’ll focus on process evolution using the Power Platform and the potential for automating your current business processes.

What is Power Platform?

Powered by Microsoft Azure, the Power Platform is an integration of several popular Microsoft services, including Power Apps, Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents and Power BI. Supported by a common data model, the service brings your data together and connects to hundreds of data sources out of the box.

For those readers that are unfamiliar with each of the components, we’ve taken the time to outline each service and the benefits they offer.

Power Apps

Power Apps is a low-code approach to custom app development, that allows businesses to create sophisticated apps through a ‘point and click’ approach. One of the key benefits of this service is that it allows users with limited development knowledge and experience to build mobile-friendly apps, alleviating the pressure from already busy IT teams.

Utilising functionality such as GPS, camera and NFC scanning, Power Apps provides a range of applications that users interact with on their desktops and mobile devices. There are two styles of applications; Canvas and Model-driven. Canvas applications are built from scratch and can be embedded into SharePoint, Teams, Power BI and Dynamics 365. Meanwhile, Model-driven apps are derived from the data model they interact with.

Power BI

If you are a regular reader of our blog, then you should already be familiar with the Power BI service and the data harnessing capabilities it provides. Described as a business analytics tool, Power BI allows organisations to connect with data sources, create visuals and gain access to business intelligence quickly, so that information can be transformed into important insights.

Through interactive and real-time dashboards, organisations can make sense of the masses of data they have collected, allowing them to improve and make important decisions based on evidence rather than impulse. In Power BI, users can manipulate data using engaging visuals and charts, allowing them present important info within visually appealing reports.

Power Automate

Power Automate is the key to improved operational efficiency within your organisation, allowing you to build time-saving workflows into everything, from individual tasks to largescale systems with seamless integration using hundreds of prebuilt connectors. Again, the low-code, no-code approach means users with limited technical knowledge can build secure workflows with ease.

Using AI capabilities, businesses can effectively automate time-consuming and manual tasks, giving you more time to focus on strategic, high-level opportunities. With mundane tasks streamlined using robotic process automation (RPA), businesses can operate with increased efficiency, allowing workers to become more productive within their roles.

Power Virtual Agents

Perhaps one of the lesser-known components of the Power Platform service, Power Virtual Agents gives organisations the tools needed to create and manage powerful chatbots, without the need for code or AI expertise. These sophisticated and easy-to-create chatbots integrate with some of the most popular products and services, allowing workers to look up records, personalise conversations and hand off where necessary.

Using AI and data-driven insights, users can monitor the performance of their chatbot, following suggestions to build and create rich, personalised conversations using natural language.

The next steps

Now that you understand the high-level capabilities of the platform, where do you go from here? Consider the following questions before embarking on the journey.

  • Which processes are key to your daily operations but are not working in the current climate?
  • Which processes take the longest to complete?
  • Which processes cost your business the most money due to the length of time they take to complete?

The stages for a Power Platform project are the same as any other solution. Just because it is a low code platform accessed through an engaging web application does not mean the project is always simple to deliver.

Do not cut corners – proceed through the planning and designing phases thoroughly, as this will save time during the development stage. Set aside enough time for testing the new solution, after all you want it to be an improvement on the current process.

Finally, deploy the solution and refine it over time. Power Platform solutions can run standalone via the Power Platform apps, within Teams and SharePoint sites, and even as part of existing web applications and portals.

As with all projects we also strongly recommend organisations consider the following.

  • Licensing: Depending on the process, you may need a different license to achieve the intended outcome.
  • Governance: Once people know about the Power Platform and the ‘art of the possible’, the flood gates will open. How are you going to handle requests for new solutions? How will you prioritise the requests? Who will create solutions within the business? You might not want the IT department to become a bottleneck for productivity so empowering other users in the business will enable the controlled creation of solutions.
  • Training: Don't expect people to just ‘get it’. Invest in your people from a maker perspective to empower more users in the business to create solutions and from a user perspective for each solution.

Are you looking to remove the paper elements of legacy processes to ensure they are fit for the modern remote working world?

Do you have zero visibility of processes and their cost to the business? If you answered yes to either of those, you could benefit from utilising the Power Platform. Get in touch with our team for more info and advice.