What is Microsoft Power Automate?
Microsoft Power Automate, formerly called Microsoft Flow, is cloud-based software that allows employees to create and automate workflows and tasks across multiple applications and services without help from developers. Automated workflows are called flows. To create a flow, the user specifies what action should take place when a specific event occurs.
Once a flow is built, it can be managed on the desktop or through an app on a mobile device. Power Automate integrates with various Microsoft services and apps, including Power BI, PowerApps, Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365.
How Power Automate is used
Power Automate automates everything from simple push notifications and content management to complex business processes with defined steps and stages. Below, explore the primary uses of Power Automate.
Triggers notifications. The most common use of Power Automate is to trigger notifications. When a new lead is added to Microsoft Dynamics CRM, for example, an automated workflow can send sales representatives an email or text message with details about the lead.
Copies files. Power Automate can also be used to copy files. For example, when a new file is added to Dropbox or OneDrive for Business, an automated workflow can instantly post a copy of the file to SharePoint.
Collects data. Power Automate is also used to collect data. For instance, if the user wants to see what people are saying about a particular brand, they can create a trigger that will capture new tweets that mention the brand and put a copy of each tweet in a SQL database for sentiment mining.
Integrates with other apps. The Power Automate Bot works within Teams workspaces. Using the bot, employees can trigger flows within Teams conversations. One example use, provided by Microsoft, is team members can run a flow that sends a text message to a support engineer to flag an issue or to log an issue in an Excel spreadsheet.
Key features of Power Automate
Power Automate does not just integrate with other Microsoft products. It can be used with a wide variety of apps and services -- what Microsoft calls connectors -- including Salesforce, SQL Server, Twitter, Box, DocuSign, Slack, Skype and Google Drive. A connector is an API proxy that allows these services to connect to Power Automate, as well as PowerApps and Azure Logic Apps, in the cloud.
Users can take advantage of an extensive library of prebuilt flows, also known as templates. Example templates include the ability to do the following:
- save Gmail attachments to OneDrive;
- send an email to any audience when a Power BI data alert is triggered;
- copy SharePoint list items into a comma-separated values (CSV) each week;
- save tweets that include a specific hashtag to a SharePoint list; and
- get a push notification when you receive an email from your boss.
If none of the templates fit the process that needs to be automated, users can also make their own flows. Power Automate is designed so that nontechnical staff can automate workflows without the help of a developer. The Power Automate Admin Center allows an administrator to manage users, permissions and roles and ensure that employee-created flows comply with data loss prevention policies.
Power Automate licensing
Microsoft offers two different payment plans for Power Automate, each with three distinct tiers: subscription plans and pay-as-you-go plans.
The subscription plans tiers are the following:
- license by user, which starts at $15 per user per month;
- license by user with attended robotic process automation (RPA), which starts at $40 per user per month; and
- license by flow, which starts at $100 per flow per month for a minimum of five flows.
Each flow that is triggered, whether automatically or manually, is considered a run. Checks for new data don't count as runs. Each of Microsoft's pay-as-you-go pricing tiers for Power Automate includes a certain number of runs and checks. Those tiers start at $0.60 per flow run.
Certain versions of Dynamics 365 and Microsoft 365 also include Power Automate.
Alternatives to Power Automate
There are a wide variety of low-code or codeless automation tools and cloud-based apps that connect apps and automate business and office processes and tasks. Power Automate's main competitors are IFTTT and Zapier. Here is how they compare:
IFTTT. If This Then That offers a free web-based tool that uses simple syntax and conditional statements to automate workflows. Its simplicity makes for an easy roll out. It offers single action workflows.
Zapier. Zapier can automate multistep workflows and has connections with more third-party apps. Zapier also has a free option, as well as four tiers of paid monthly or annual subscription plans for businesses.
Editor's note: This article was written by Rowena Lindsay and Lauren Horwitz in 2018. TechTarget editors revised it in 2022 to improve the reader experience.