This week was an exciting week from a Power Platform point of view. At Microsoft Ignite the existing Microsoft Flow was rebranded into Power Automate and a new type of flow was introduced. We will still create flows as we have done in the past but in comes a completely new concept called UI flows. UI flows provides Robotic Process Automation (RPA) capabilities to Power Automate. It allows you to automate repetitive tasks in Windows and Web applications and if you want to try it out, just go to the maker portal where you now have the possibility to create UI flows.
The excitement did not end there though. Another new feature was introduced into the Power Platform family. Alongside Power Apps (yes, Power Apps is the new PowerApps), Power BI and Power Automate we now have Power Virtual Agents. Take a look at the new overview of the Power Platform. Isn’t it beautiful to see it grow into something even more powerful?
What is Power Virtual Agents?
Power Virtual Agents is one of the latest additions to the Power Platform family and it empowers citizen developers to create chatbots. Using a no-code approach anyone can create a chatbot with just a few simple steps.
The main building blocks are topics, trigger phrases and conversation paths. You can also empower your bot to take actions using Microsoft Power Automate.
Getting started with Power Virtual Agents
Navigate to aka.ms/virtual-agent and choose Try Preview. Fill in your e-mail address and hopefully everything is fine and you will be taken to the Power Virtual Agent Portal. Some tips here is that you can NOT use a Community plan and developer environment (I tried that). If you do not have a proper environment you will need to go and create a new trial environment.
Your first chat bot will be generated, just wait and keep your fingers crossed. I had an issue the first time (see the chapter about my findings), but when creating a new bot everything was fine. You get to give your bot a name.
Your bot will now be created.
Next, the Power Virtual Agent Portal will open. Next time you go here to continue to work with your bot, you can just navigate to it https://powerva.microsoft.com.
Under Topics you will now find several pre-defined topics. You can delete those that you do not want to keep and you can create your own topics. Let’s say we want to create a bot which we can ask for help, anything Power Platform related. We create a new topic called Power Platform. Then we specify trigger phrases. i.e. what the user might ask. You can create several for each topic.
When we are done with the triggering phrases we will go to the conversation editor design canvas by clicking on Go to authoring canvas. Here we build conversation paths. We also have the possibility to create actions – with Power Automate.
You can also modify the existing topics. The topics are either classified as a user topic or a system topic, user topic being what a user might ask and system topics are e.g. greetings (that start a chat) or goodbyes.
You can test your chatbot at the same time that you are doing the configurations, the configuration is done to the right and you have the test window to the left.
When you are done with your topics you can go and check out the deploy options. Currently there are two different choices under Deploy. More deploy options are coming, see the chapter about my findings.
Deploy your Bot
You can test your bot by choosing Demo website. You get to type in a text as introduction to your bot, add some sample questions and then you just click Publish.
You can also choose to deploy to a custom website in order to activate your bot on your own website.
This was fun! Do you think that I should let my bot become smarter and be able to answer more Power Platform related questions?
After exploring Power Virtual Agents for a few hours, I have made the following findings:
There are themes
Under Settings -> Office 365 you can change theme. If I change the theme it changes the top bar in the Power Virtual Agent portal. However it seams to be temporarily because if I switch to another bot I get the default colours again. The same thing if I close and open the Power Virtual Agent portal. Perhaps something which will change in the future so that we can use themes in order to change the look of the finished chat bot (?).
You can test your bot directly when configuring your bot, nice! But you also have the possibility to deploy your bot to a Demo Website. I already showed you this earlier in this blog post. You can easily deploy to your web page under the Deploy menu item. Just choose Custom Website and a code snippet will be generated for you, which you then can use on your HTML website.
There will probably be more deploy options in the future. Take a look at the Things to know page under the Deploy menu item. Looks like options to deploy to Facebook and Microsoft Teams is on its way.
Possibility to use variables
You can use variables. E.g. save a customer’s name in a variable called UserName and your bot will be able to address the customer by name as the conversation continues.
Integrate with Omnichannel for Customer Service
You can integrate with Omnichannel for Customer Service and let a real agent take over from the virtual agent.
Manage your bots
You can view all your bots and create a new one under the bot icon in the top right corner.
Extend your bot
You can extend your bot with code and use the Microsoft Bot Framework dispatcher tool to integrate an existing bot with your Power Virtual Agents bot.
At first I tried to start from my Carina Claesson environment (the developer environment I got with a Community Plan), but when navigating to aka.ms/virtual-agent and trying to sign up for the preview I was not able to do that. It complained about my account.
Then I went and registered for a new trial environment. With the new trial environment I managed to sign in but as soon as I entered the Power Virtual Agent Portal and my first bot was generated, I got this.
I clicked Retry a few times, same each time. Then I managed to create a new one from scratch and then it worked just fine. No more issues.
Overall my first experience with Power Virtual Agents was a really great experience and I am amazed by how easily – with just a few clicks – that you can create a chatbot.
I recommend watching the Vision Keynote with Satya Nadella as well as Unleashing your organization’s creativity and innovation with a deep dive into the Microsoft Power Platform with James Phillips, on-demand videos available here.