Microsoft rebrands Flow to 'Power Automate'; adds no-code Power Platform virtual agents

Ignite 2019: Microsoft is continuing to add more features to its Power Platform, the collection of low-code and no-code tools including Power BI, Power Apps and Power Automate.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

Microsoft is continuing to add more features to its low-code/no-code Power Platform family of products. At its Ignite conference this week, officials are detailing some of these new capabilities, along with some new branding for one member of the Power Platform family. 

Mirosoft's Power Platform is the collection of Power BI analytics, PowerApps app-development platform and Flow, its workflow-automation engine. As of this week, Microsoft is rebranding Flow -- which is a lot like the If This Then That (IFTTT) platform -- as "Power Automate" to make its brands more consistent. 
Microsoft is adding robotic process automation (RPA) to Power Automate to help automate repetitive tasks. A public preview of the RPA capability, which is called UI Flows, is available this week. 
Microsoft also is introducing a new capability called Power Virtual Agents in public preview as of today, November 4. Power Virtual Agents is meant to enable anyone to build a no-code, no-AI-training required intelligent bot. It combines the Microsoft Bot Framework technology with the Power Platform technologies. Those who want to make a more complex bot can take advantage of the integrations that exist between the Bot Framework and Microsoft's Cognitive Services. 

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft already has its own Virtual Agent for Customer Service bot, which is available in preview form. I'm assuming the Power Virtual Agents technology is a manifestation of this.

Microsoft also is announcing at Ignite that users will be able to use Power Platform tools inside of Microsoft Teams. And Power Apps creators can publish their apps directly to their company's app libraries in Teams. And the AI Builder no-code AI feature in the Power Platform, which Microsoft made generally available on October 1, is getting a new set of pre-built AI models for key phrase extraction, language detection, text recognition and sentiment analysis.

Just a couple of days before the start of Ignite, Microsoft relented on a purchasing/licensing decision for its Power Platform which had a number of IT professionals up-in-arms. 

A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft began informing customers that it was going to make a significant change in the way users could purchase and license Power BI, PowerApps and Flow products. Starting on November 19, self-service purchase capabilities for those products was set to be turned on automatically. This meant that administrator approval would not be required -- or even offered the option -- when it comes to purchases by individual end-users of the Power Platform products. Individuals will have to pay for licenses themselves, not using corporate funds, but they won't be barred from doing so. 

On October 31, Microsoft undid a number of its planned self-service changes by giving IT pros a way to block the self-service options and delaying the start of their rollout until January 2020.

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