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Power Virtual Agents Fiscal Year 2021 Review


When we launched Power Virtual Agents in 2019, we were excited about embarking on the journey to create the best low code chatbot service available in industry. Since our launch, the world changed and adapted to COVID-19, new norms were established in the workplace and many of the changes necessitated by the pandemic are permanent, and now simply an evolution in our working model. From a technology perspective, it has become clear that greater remote and hybrid work environments increase the need for low-code development tools, as more citizen developers must create solutions addressing their business challenges while central IT teams focus on governing the new decentralized networks of the modern enterprise.

The Power Platform has enabled citizen developers to create remarkable solutions in a variety of industries and use cases ranging from communications, consumer goods, field and consumer service, manufacturing, and many others. In many of these examples, we see how chatbots play an important and expanding role in enterprise operations and customer engagement. As our customers sharpen their focus on both low code development services and leveraging chatbots, we’ve ramped our efforts to continue adding new features and capabilities to Power Virtual Agents to ensure our customers have a best-in-class chatbot service. In the last fiscal year alone, we made significant enhancements to Power Virtual Agents and wanted to review some of the highlights.


Quarter 1

In the first quarter of FY21, we immediately enabled a larger number of citizen developers (business users) to create chatbots with Power Virtual Agents by seamlessly integrating the service with Microsoft Teams (see figure 1).  A Forrester study found that bots (and apps) embedded within Teams significantly improved employee engagement, efficiency, and productivity.  By offering Power Virtual Agents in Teams, users can easily create their own digital assistants within Teams and make them available to their colleagues for use.


Figure 1. Creating a chatbot with Power Virtual Agents in Microsoft Teams


To further enhance the citizen developer bot authoring experience, we made it easy to create and manage Power Virtual Agent bots from Microsoft Power Apps.  We made it possible to seamlessly access a Chatbots component in the Power Apps maker portal in order to create and manage their Power Virtual Agents bots.  Once the bot is created in an environment, makers can easily manage the bot from the Power Apps studio also.

At the heart of any development is the ability to easily collaborate with colleagues.  To this end, we also made it possible to share bots with your teammates, allowing multiple contributors to edit and manage your bot.  Subject matter experts on a team can collaborate on a bot.  Additionally, we enabled the export and import of Power Virtual Agents using solutions.  With this ability, administrators can now easily manage the chatbot’s lifecycle to address change control, governance, data residency, and latency requirements. Organizations can use different environments for different purposes, or employ ring-deployment methodologies (see video 1).  To round out the quarter, we ensured that Power Virtual Agents met the standards and requirements of many of the most important global compliance standards including HIPAA, IOC, and SOC.


Video 1.  How to export and import bots with solutions.


Quarter 2

We kickstarted the second quarter by adding Power Virtual Agents to our Power Platform Center Of Excellence (COE) starter kit.  The CoE Starter Kit is a collection of components and tools designed to help organizations develop a strategy for adopting and supporting the Microsoft Power Platform.  In 2020, we introduced inventory and basic telemetry information on Power Virtual Agents to the  latest version of the CoE Starter Kit. The existing Power Platform Admin View and the CoE Starter Kit Power BI Dashboard were updated to include a Power Virtual Agents overview and detail page.

In quarter two we also took the exciting step of integrating Bot Framework Composer to Power Virtual Agents (see figure 2).  With the addition of Bot Framework Composer to Power Virtual Agents, pro and citizen developers could more easily work together in fusion teams to create chatbot experiences.  These hybrid teams are quickly becoming the norm in our industry and necessary for digital transformation success.


Figure 2. Bot Framework Composer used in Power Virtual Agents


Quarter 3

The third quarter began with further enhancements to Power Virtual Agents integration with Microsoft Teams with the launch of Single Sign-on (SSO) in Teams.  With SSO in Teams, Bot makers can configure bots to automatically use Teams’ authentication, so end users don’t have to sign-in when chatting with a PVA bot in the Teams channel, streamlining the user’s experience.  We capped quarter three with significant AI powered enhancements which included:

  • Topic overlap detection which helps bot authors identify and refine overlapping topics, reducing the need for the bot to ask clarifying questions
  • AI-assisted topic suggestions based on historical chat transcripts
  • AI which helps bots improve over time through user interactions
  • Personalized conversations crafted with information from Microsoft Graph and Microsoft Azure Active Directory, leveraging both to enhance and personalize future conversations (see figure 3)
  • Leveraging cutting edge natural language understanding models to enhance topic triggering performance


Figure 3.  Personalized conversations using Power Virtual Agents


Get a deeper dive into the details of these AI powered enhancements.


Quarter 4

In the last quarter we introduced Environment Lifecycle Management to Power Virtual Agents.  With the release of these features, users can backup, restore, delete, recover, copy, and reset their bots across environments.  Briefly, with respect to the Power Platform, an environment is a contained space to store, manage, and share your organization’s business data, bots, apps, and flows.  With Environment Lifecycle Management, users can more easily control environment lifecycle operations (see figure 4).  You can read about the full scope of the lifecycle operations here.


Figure 4.  Environment backup done from the Power Platform Admin Center


We further enhanced Power Virtual Agents by adding FedRAMP, HITRUST, DSS, and OSPAR certifications.

To round out the year, we added deeper integration of Power Virtual Agents across Dynamics 365 and Power Apps Portals.  With chatbots now being utilized to provide customer support 24/7 and serve as the first line of service, we have worked to enhance our integration with Dynamics 365 Omnichannel for Customer Service.  To this end, we introduced integrated licensing by including Power Virtual Agents sessions in Omnichannel licenses.  We also made it easier to get started by making Power Virtual Agents a first run experience as part of Omnichannel.  Now, Power Virtual Agents bots to be automatically created, linked to the Omnichannel hub and added to the right workstream and queues making it extremely simple to get started (see figure 5).


Figure 5.  Power Virtual Agents bot created as part of Omnichannel first run experience


We also have made it possible to add a Power Virtual Agents chatbot to any Power App Portal webpage without code.  Chatbots are a great way to engage with customers on webpages and enhance the customer experience.  With this integration between Power Virtual Agents and Power Apps Portals, we enable you to create an enhanced customer experience quickly and easily (see figure 6).


Figure 6.  Adding a chatbot to a Power Apps Portals webpage


Begin Your Journey with Power Virtual Agents

We hope you explore the possibilities with Power Virtual Agents by starting a trial today.  You can build your first chatbot in a matter of minutes and get started on delivering an engaging experience for your customers and employees.  Also, make sure to follow our blog for the latest feature updates and use cases for chatbots.  Please join our community to share your ideas, provide your comments, and even help drive the future direction of our product development.  Below are some quick links to get started on your journey!