Founded 1975 | Redmond, WA | 160,000 employees (approx.) Feb 2023
Microsoft’s two-headed approach in Process Advisor, with both task and process mining, provides those who are already engaged with Power Automate with a potentially powerful set of analytical allies to help determine not only what a process looks like prior to automation, but also whether that process is suitable for automation at all.
Microsoft is one of the world’s largest software companies. Founded in 1975, it is headquartered in Redmond, Washington, and has revenues of $198 billion (FY 2022) and around 160,000 employees. Microsoft’s recent history with workflow and automation began with the launch of Microsoft Flow in 2016, which was primarily intended to allow for simple, app-level automations between elements within Office 365 and other owned platforms (Yammer, Dynamics, etc.) along with the then recently launched low-code platform Power Apps and some third-party applications including Dropbox, Slack, and Salesforce. Flow was developed to replace the longstanding SharePoint Designer product with a broader scope and support for mobile platforms.
In late 2019, Microsoft relaunched Flow as Power Automate, broader and with new robotic process automation (RPA) capabilities, new AI-based intelligent automation capabilities, and deeper integration with the Dynamics platform. In May 2020, the company acquired RPA vendor Softomotive to bring industry-leading desktop-application-level automation to Power Automate (in the form of Power Automate for Desktop). By May 2021, the first preview of Power Automate Process Advisor was released. In March 2022, Microsoft acquired process mining platform Minit 1 and folded it into Power Automate alongside the existing technology.
As a result of Microsoft’s own organic development and its acquisitions of Softomotive and, more recently, Minit, Power Automate Process Advisor is a two-headed application that encompasses task mining and process mining. As we cover extensively elsewhere,2 both approaches are important complementary ways of gaining an understanding about the shape of a process and how human operators are performing the various tasks in it: both the theory and actuality of a process at work (see Figure 1).
The starting point for Microsoft with the initial 2020 version of Power Automate Process Advisor was to allow for automations to be planned by using desktop recordings to capture users’ actions during a work process. Those recordings could be analyzed, variants examined, and outcomes compared to assist the modeling of these processes for automation. This sort of desktop, user-level capture and analysis is generally more associated with task mining than process mining, although as stated these are complementary schools of thought. The product also supports a standard process mining approach using server-level log file analysis and identification to build a picture of the process from the application backward (as opposed to the task mining approach that looks from the desktop forward).
Minit provides the enhanced process mining capabilities available for preview in Process Advisor. Minit’s approach is to analyze all the traces from a process (with elements like case IDs, time/date stamps, user information) to build out a process map with instance data to support it.3 The user can plot improvements on the map, simulate changes in how a process might operate, and look at where current bottlenecks could be circumvented (a form of RCA – root cause analysis). The goal here is for standardization, optimization, and ultimately process improvement, making these processes more suitable to be automated with Power Automate.
Functionally, Minit operates more or less identically to when it was an independent entity; however, underneath the covers much has happened during the year since Microsoft acquired it. Minit historically worked as both an on-premises and cloud application, and the latter has been migrated onto the Azure platform. Analytics that previously utilized Qlik have now been migrated to Power BI. It is expected that the previous on-premises Minit application will be deprecated, and existing customers will be encouraged to move to this new alternative.
What is easy to overlook and therefore worth restating is that Microsoft owns the global desktop market. As such, where it wishes to make the desktop work better for its business applications, it wields enormous power (especially in an age where organizations are actively looking to reduce their number of partners). A case in point is the desktop record application, which can be installed on Windows 10 but forms part of the default install of Windows 11. With Power Automate Process Advisor, a big source of potential friction for user-level process capture is instantly removed. In addition, the Windows desktop itself offers both Microsoft and other task mining vendors assistance through its accessibility inspection and UI-tree-view tools, which are very helpful with labeling user activities without recourse to screen-scraping; both largely explain why no vendor currently offers recording capabilities for any OS other than Windows. Such labeling is vital in understanding user “desire paths” through a process.
As things stand, Microsoft is positioning process mining – largely what was the existing Minit platform – as the first and primary step, with task mining a secondary “zoom-in” set of functionalities to be used for further analysis once a process has been largely identified as inefficient. As would be expected so soon after the Minit acquisition, there’s little obvious integration between these two heads (task and process mining) but we can expect Microsoft to apply a combined, hybrid task and process analysis where log file and desktop clickstream will offer a degree of macro-to-micro mapping that few others will be able to bring to market.
Owning the user desktop affords Microsoft significant advantages when it comes to understanding the relationship between users and the processes they traverse. Ironically, the investment in Minit’s process mining technology – an approach that uses server logging to understand application processes – may be what boosts the existing task-mining technology toward the enterprise mainstream. In the short term, the challenge for Microsoft is to mitigate separate task and process mining streams and find ways to harmonize both approaches to produce a singular analytical output. That output will provide plenty of grist for the Power Automate mill, as that is the driver behind the entire Process Advisor effort. For vendors that are pushing the art of the possible and are content selling to the subset of customers who gravitate toward that early adoption, Microsoft’s steady catch-up efforts should be of little immediate concern. Everybody else would be wise to watch the shadow that is cast.
Advice to Buyers
Looking toward automation without proper prior analysis to fully understand the how and why of existing processes will doom an organization to perpetual project horror in our opinion. The easier-to-reach the tooling is that allows organizations to perform real due diligence here, the better. Microsoft’s two-headed approach with both task and process provides those who are already engaged with Power Automate with a potentially powerful set of analytical allies to help determine not only what a process looks like prior to automation, but also whether that process is suitable for automation at all (thereby avoiding the aforementioned project horror). For organizations earlier in their automation journey – maybe those who have yet to put a stake in the ground for a specific platform on which to standardize – this could provide at least a more positive tick in the requirements box.
- Microsoft owns the enterprise user desktop; easy deployment of recorder app is baked into Windows 11
- These desktops are likely to be connected to other parts of Microsoft 365, Dynamics, and beyond
- As customers look to reduce the number of platforms they support to save costs, Microsoft expects to be the last one standing across the enterprise
- Still plenty of headroom for growth in automation
- The enlarged Process Advisor could be the perfect funnel for Power Automate projects
- The greater Power Apps platform – of which Process Advisor is a part – is currently a $2B business in its own right
1. See the Deep Analysis report on Minit at https://www.deep-analysis.net/vendor-vignette/minit/
2. See the Deep Analysis report, “Process & Task Mining Vendor Landscape Report,” https://www.deep-analysis.net/processmininglanding/
3. See the Deep Analysis report, “Process & Task Mining Vendor Landscape Report,” https://www.deep-analysis.net/processmininglanding/
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