How to Build Workflows Using Power Automate and AI in Microsoft 365

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AI is a fascinating thing!

Microsoft’s Power Automate is a Microsoft 365 tool that allows you to create various types of business automations. For example, some organizations use Power Automate to launch an approval workflow whenever someone uploads a new document to SharePoint Online. As useful as Power Automate might be, however, you can greatly enhance its capabilities by leveraging AI workflows through Microsoft’s AI Builder

In this article, I’ll show you how to create an AI-enabled workflow. But before that, let me give you a brief overview of workflows.

An Introduction to Workflows

Power Automate is mainly used for creating business and IT workflows, among other things. You can think of a workflow as an elaborate if-then statement. The “if” portion of this statement is a trigger. It causes the workflow to launch if it meets a particular condition. For example, an approval workflow might launch if a user uploads a document to a SharePoint library. 

It’s worth noting that triggers don’t have to be automatic. You can also manually trigger a workflow. The example AI-enabled workflow I’ll show you later will use a manual trigger.

For now, let me show you how you can use AI and Power Automate together.

Power Automate and AI

By default, Power Automate gives you the tools to create a wide variety of workflows related to Microsoft 365. Microsoft provides lots of templates that can greatly simplify the process of creating a workflow. You can also build your own workflows from scratch.

One limitation to Power Automate workflows, however, is that they’re action-oriented. To clarify, they can’t make intuitive decisions. This is where AI Builder comes into play. 

AI Builder allows your workflows to do more than would otherwise be possible. For example, you can use AI to extract text from a file, recognize objects in an image, translate a message into another language, and much more.

When it comes to Power Automate, you have two types of AI models to work with. I’ll discuss these models next.

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We all need AI to help us every now and then!

The Two Types of AI Models in Power Automate

As I mentioned before, you have two options for working with AI in Power Automate. 

One option is to use one of the built-in models that Microsoft has created for you. Right now, you have eleven pre-built models that you can choose from. You can use these models as-is and integrate them into Power Automate workflows with relative ease. 

The other option is to build a custom model. These are based on classifiers that Microsoft has already created, such as object detection, text extraction, etc. However, creating a custom model requires more work than using the built-in models. More importantly, custom models require training before the model accurately recognizes whatever it is that you’re trying to detect.

In this article, I’ll focus only on built-in models. So what’s next? How about I show you how to create your own AI-enabled workflow?

How to Create an AI-Enabled Workflow

Using one of the pre-built models to build an AI-enabled workflow is a relatively simple process. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you:

  1. Open Power Automate.
  2. Click on the Explore tab.
  3. Click on the AI capability that you wish to explore. For this article, I’ll be using the “Extract all the Text in Photos and PDF Documents (OCR)” capability.
Screenshot showing the Power Automate interface with several menus on the left.
There are several built-in AI capabilities that you can experiment with.
  1. Click Use in a Flow. You should be on a screen that describes the capability that you’ve selected and that provides several screen captures of the capability in action.
Screenshot showing the "extract all the text in photos and PDF documents (OCR)" menu.
Click the “Use in a Flow” button to continue.
  1. Click Continue to give the flow that you’re creating permission to use any required resources.
  2. Customize the flow or keep it as is. You can customize it as you would with any other Power Automate flow.
Screenshot showing Power Automate having successfully created a workflow.
Power Automate has automatically created this flow.
  1. Click the Save Button.
  2. Click on the Test icon to optionally test the workflow.

As you can see, it’s that simple. You can use Power Automate to easily create an AI-enabled workflow. Now, I’ll tell you the steps required to run your newly created workflow.

Running Your New Workflow

Now that you’ve finished creating your workflow, you can run it by following these steps:

  1. Select the My Flows container in the Power Automate console. 
  2. Hover over the newly created flow and click the Run icon.
Screenshot showing the Flows container in Power Automate.
Hover over the new flow and click the Run icon.
  1. Click Continue to grant Power Automate permission to run the flow.
  2. Supply any information requested by the workflow such as an image file or PDF file.
  3. Click Run Flow.
  4. Click Done when the flow completes.

The workflow prompts will vary greatly depending on what you design the workflow for. For example, in the case of the workflow that’s designed to extract text from a file, Power Automate will prompt you to import a file. You can use any PDF or image file that you want, but for this article, I am using a test PDF file provided by the Yukon Department of Education.

Just as the prompts associated with each workflow are different, so is the workflow’s output. In the case of the text extraction workflow, the results get sent by email to the user who launched the workflow.

Screenshot showing the results sent by the workflow through email.
The workflow has sent its results by email.

As you can see in the figure above, the workflow has sent me an email containing the extracted text from the file that I supplied. It also sent me a copy of the original file from which the extraction came.

Overall, it’s a very simple process. Simply follow the above steps, and you too can easily create AI-enabled workflows using Power Automate.

Final Thoughts

To keep things simple, I’ve created a manually triggered workflow based on a pre-built AI model. However, you don’t have to limit yourself in this way. You can integrate AI models into new or existing business workflows

Let’s say, for example, someone uploaded a document to a SharePoint library. You could conceivably use AI to scan the document’s contents and figure out what type of document it is. Then, you can place the document into the appropriate folder based on what’s in the document. That’s just one example of how you can use AI in Power Automate workflows.

I hope this article came in handy in helping you create your own AI-enabled workflows. Feel free to refer back to it in the future should you need to refresh your memory.

Do you have questions about Power Automate and/or its capabilities? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!

FAQ

What are the general categories of AI automation that AI Builder supports?

AI Builder allows you to build AI automation using a variety of source data including documents, text, structured data, and images. That said, the features available to you vary by region. For instance, if your AI Builder server is located in, Europe features are subjected to European regulatory compliance.

What’s the easiest way to get started with AI Builder?

If you have a Microsoft 365 subscription that includes Power Automate, then you can get a free 30-day trial of AI Builder. This trial doesn’t automatically convert to a paid subscription. You can use Microsoft’s Getting Started Guide to learn how to work with AI Builder.

Are there any significant limitations associated with the AI Builder trial? 

The AI Builder trial only allows you to delete it. Trial versions cannot be reset and don’t support backup and restore operations. If you’re using the trial version, this is a reasonable limitation. After all, you’re not going to be creating entire solutions within 30 days of the trial. You also won’t need these operations. 

How does licensing work for AI Builder?

Most cloud applications require you to purchase licenses based on your user or device count. AI Builder is different in that it requires you to purchase capacity. An administrator must then allocate the purchased capacity to users who need it. This is logical, as your AI solutions need resources to scale with the complexity of the neural net created.

Where can I get the capacity needed for AI Builder?

To get more capacity for AI Builder, go to the Power Platform Admin Center in Microsoft 365. From there, go to Capacity Add-Ons.Then click on Manage Capacity. Once you’ve purchased more capacity, you can assign it to users to help their projects work faster. You can also reassign resources from deprecated projects from the same location.

Resources

TechGenix: Article on Workflow Automation

Learn the basics of workflow automation.

TechGenix: Article on the Power of Automation

Discover the IT areas that can benefit most from automation.

TechGenix: Article on AI-Powered Automated Cybersecurity

Read more about the pros and cons of using AI-powered automation for cybersecurity.

Microsoft: Power Automate Documentation

Learn more about Microsoft’s Power Automate.

Microsoft: AI Builder

Read more on how to get started with Microsoft’s AI Builder.

Microsoft: Using AI Builder in Power Automate

Discover how to use Microsoft’s AI Builder in Power Automate.

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