At this year’s Ignite , Microsoft made several announcements related to conversational AI and chatbots. One of the key announcements that caught our attention is the launch of Power Virtual Agents as a part of Microsoft’s citizen development vision of Power Platform.
Power Platform as you know had until now a few powerful tools like Power BI, Power Apps & Flow (now called Power Automate). With the addition of Power Virtual Agents, Microsoft is essentially connecting all their previous investments in these respective technologies. At the same time, addressing the key questions that many customers and partners had been inquisitive about: Where is Microsoft’s bot builder platform?
With the launch of the Microsoft Bot Framework in early 2016, Microsoft paved the way for customers and vendors alike to start experimenting and developing chatbots. Simply put, Bot framework is an SDK and coupled with the Azure Bot Service and Cognitive Services like LUIS and QnA Maker using which developers can build some pretty cool chatbots. However, bot building is yet regarded as technical & complex. To bridge this gap and democratize bot building, solutions like BotCore were developed that put the business analyst or the power user in the driver seat.
With Power Virtual Agents rollout, we are comprehending that all these investments that Microsoft has done since 2016 are all coming together. Not to any wonder, Bot Framework and other cognitive services which are used to enable chatbots forms the foundation of Power Virtual Agents. The building experience is however very simple. This platform doesn’t necessitate an understanding of concepts like intents, utterances, entities etc. which every bot developer and trainer swear by. A power business user can go from zero to a working bot in a matter of minutes!
One thing that is true with any chatbot rollout is to fail faster and keep trying. Chatbots can be used to automate a lot of different areas. However, if you choose a use case that happens to complicate the end-user experience or make it difficult for a user to get the job done – your chatbot adoption is at stake!
Once you identify a process or area that can be handled by a chatbot, using Power Virtual Agents, you can quickly create, test and deploy the agent to your users. Call it a PoC or MVP or Pilot or anything else that assures your users that there will be more improvements going forward. This helps you to test the waters before embarking on a larger enterprise-wide journey that would take more time and effort.
Power Virtual Agents platform was developed as part of the Dynamics family of products and was primarily built for customer support use-case. However, the chatbots built using it can be deployed for your internal customers or employees as well. The whole notion behind chatbots is to offer quick front office or L1 support, effectively eliminating or reducing low-value requests that come into your contact centre or helpdesk.
Few of the areas, where we see Power Virtual Agents being used within the enterprise are:
Self-help and troubleshooting
Triaging a problem before creating an incident or request in ITSM tools
Automating simpler processes like time-off
Displaying & validating employee information like contact details etc. from HRIS
Guided dialog conversations to help identify the right action to be taken given a situation
Requesting for payroll or benefit related information
If you have seen or used Microsoft Flow (Power Automate) before, you are in business! That’s because Power Virtual Agents can seamlessly connect with Power Automate flows to integrate with a wide variety of enterprise applications.
Few examples of integrations that you can use today are:
SharePoint, OneDrive, Outlook, etc
And many many more…
At the time of this writing, Power Virtual Agents can be deployed on a variety of different messaging applications.
What’s exciting us the most is the ability to launch an agent on Microsoft Teams on the click of a button!
Once you build your agent, you can enable it on Teams and get your pilot group to start using and testing the bot. With any chatbot, the crucial step is to collect lots of feedback from your pilot or early users before you go to a larger audience.
This part is a bit technical as it does involve some knowledge of Active Directory. However, once you have the configuration in place, you can protect your sensitive data and transactions by ensuring that an employee is properly signed in before the dialogue is executed.
With Power Virtual Agents, any enterprise with Office 365 can start building chatbots to automate a wide variety of use cases. Something that was once considered as the complex is now democratized – true to Microsoft’s mission of empowering every person and every organization to achieve more.
With this level of proliferation of chatbots within an enterprise, we see that the transition from apps to conversational bots is all set to increase in pace. Many enterprises are using Acuvate’s BotCore for a similar end.
BotCore is a chatbot middleware and aggregation platform that helps customers to build virtual agents and, as well, connect existing bots within a single enterprise persona. Together, Power Virtual Agents and BotCore can aid in an AI-driven Digital Transformation within the enterprise. At Acuvate we are looking forward to automating and solving complex enterprise problems with our customers using Power Virtual Agents!