Today, there are more business applications than ever, but they are rarely connected to one another. This can make it more challenging to complete common tasks like setting up meetings with multiple presenters or logging time off. Moreover, manually completing tasks across multiple applications can increase the risk of errors and reduce productivity. Microsoft Core Services Engineering and Operations (CSEO) saw this problem as an opportunity for automation. This led to CSEO’s use of Microsoft Power Automate, a cloud-based workflow solution that automates business processes like approvals, data collection, and social media engagement. It can connect Microsoft Dynamics 365, Azure, and 250 other applications and services that make it possible for any employee to quickly build and test a solution. By streamlining and connecting workflows, Power Automate empowers all employees to be citizen developers and create a community that supports governance of new and existing flows.
The rise of the citizen developer
At one point, our computer scientists and software engineers were the only employees who developed applications. Now, we are in the age of the citizen developer. Citizen developers are employees who work on the front lines of their organization, so they are more readily aware of opportunities for improvement and innovation than their IT counterparts.
As a low-code or no-code tool, Power Automate empowers every employee to be a citizen developer regardless of where they sit in an organization or their experience with software development. With Power Automate, teams can build end-to-end solutions, which accelerates the delivery of business solutions.
Using Power Automate in the enterprise
At Microsoft and across CSEO, Power Automate is used extensively by business groups and engineering teams alike. Let’s take a look at a few flows used at Microsoft.
Employees often have workdays full of meetings. If an employee is feeling unwell and cannot make it to work, they need to go through the steps of canceling each meeting in Microsoft Outlook one by one, checking in with their coworkers and manager, and setting up their automated out-of-office message. Then, they can log their time off and get some rest.
CSEO used Power Automate to handle all of these tasks. Using Power Automate, employees can choose which meetings they want to cancel from the meetings they organized, set up an out-of-office email, and log sick time all in one step. As soon as the flow kicks off, the person feeling a little under the weather can focus on getting rest and regaining their energy.
Approving off-cycle payroll
Money talks, but it takes a significant amount of work to manage it. Microsoft’s Global Payroll team is responsible for delivering compensation to 140,000 employees around the world. However, not every transaction in Finance is straightforward, which is especially true for off-cycle payroll, which occurs outside of regular pay periods. For one, approving an off-cycle payroll used to be a labor-intensive process for the submitter, approver, and processor. Moreover, some laws require companies to pay their new employees within the calendar month in which they start, so streamlining the off-cycle payroll process can support compliance with these regulations.
Power Automate streamlines the off-cycle payroll process using Microsoft SharePoint, Power Apps, and Power BI, all through a single portal that’s accessible from a computer or mobile device. In other words, this modernized solution is entirely digital. The flow is triggered by a Microsoft Form in which the requester selects the region, company code, and request type. From there, Power Automate organizes the process, from logging the request in SharePoint to digitally routing approvals to the appropriate people. Power Automate also archives each request in Microsoft Azure for audit purposes, and Power BI provides insight into the metrics behind the overall process.
Using Power Automate to track, approve, and log off-cycle payroll has decreased the time required to process an off-cycle request by 30 percent and reduced the total work hours needed to process off-cycle payroll by 25 percent. Power Automate also ensures that employees can have greater visibility into the off-cycle payroll process and approvers are automatically kept informed about their action items.
Organizing meetings with multiple presenters and content owners
Meetings are a common occurrence at the office of the CEO, but coordinating meetings with multiple presenters and attendees was often a tedious process. Previously, an executive administrator would use a Microsoft Word document to collect details about each presenter’s topic. This information would be manually transferred into a Microsoft Excel workbook containing a tab for each meeting, sorted into SharePoint folders with individualized permissions, and recorded in Microsoft OneNote pages. Afterward, multiple meeting invitations would be sent out through Outlook.
Meeting Orchestrator is a solution developed with Power Automate that connects six different apps to conduct meetings with multiple topics, content owners, and presenters. This flow uses Microsoft Office 365 tools, including SharePoint, Exchange, Teams, Outlook, OneNote, and Power BI. The flow starts with a form on a SharePoint site where the meeting orchestrator chooses a meeting date, topics, content owners, and critical attendees. Power Automate will send an email invitation to presenters that reminds them to upload their presentation content into SharePoint folders with individualized permissions. Meeting orchestrators can schedule multiple email reminders to content owners if their content is in draft mode before the meeting. Power Automate also archives the meeting agenda in Teams, OneNote, and Outlook in case attendees want to reference meeting material after the fact. To develop richer insights about the meetings, meeting orchestrators and participants can also look at metadata to display what topics and groups were presented each week in Power BI.
At Microsoft, our meeting orchestrators can hold presenters accountable for submitting their presentation material, and presenters know that they have a designated place for their presentation content. All meeting attendees can put their energy into conducting productive and strategic meetings.
Supporting governance through community-building
Now that we’ve created a platform for building flows and applications that empower innovative ideas by all, including citizen developers, there’s an increased need for regulation. We found it best to approach this from two vantage points: build a strong community for all Power Automate users, and support IT stewardship through platform monitoring.
Putting users in conversation
We use community as a vehicle for governance because users value learning from one another. After someone begins to use Power Automate, they are invited to attend end-user meetings, visit an app catalog to see flows developed by other users, learn the standards that we’ve put in place, receive support for developing flows, and participate in the conversation about governance. This empowers all users to be good stewards of their apps, flows, and data, and to share best practices.
Monitoring the platform
Along with the community and training, CSEO built tools using flows and connectors that allow us to proactively monitor these apps. We know when the standards have been breached, when highly sensitive data is shared too broadly, and where we need to bring in interventions. This enables us to keep track of the compliance and regulatory spaces.
A big part of digital transformation is creating tools to empower people. To support this, we are committed to building systems that complete sophisticated workflows by quickly, seamlessly, and securely connecting familiar productivity tools and applications, which drives value for the business. Using tools like Microsoft Power Automate, our employees can deliver solutions in hours instead of months, and anyone in the company can make our processes more efficient. This ensures that we can work less and do more. By transforming the tools that support productivity and empower people, we can transform our business.
What this means for you
Everyone can be a citizen developer and begin developing connected solutions with Power Automate. Visit https://flow.microsoft.com/ to get started. There you can find templates that automate software development tasks, enhance productivity, and manage social media.
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