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What’s new: The evolution of Power Virtual Agents

What’s new

This year at Microsoft Build 2022, we are excited to announce a set of transformative and new capabilities for Microsoft Power Virtual Agents.

Power Virtual Agents’ new intelligent bot authoring experience now unifies the sophistication of Microsoft Azure Bot Framework Composer’s pro-code capabilities with the simplicity of Power Virtual Agents’ low-code platform—making it even easier for professional developers and subject matter experts to collaboratively build a bot in one unified Microsoft bot building studio. As part of this evolution, we’ve also expanded Power Virtual Agents from a bot builder to a complete interactive voice response (IVR) builder by adding end-to-end support for telephony.

You can try out the Power Virtual Agents click-through demo now!

This evolution focuses on four major themes:

Unified bot building for Microsoft

Last year we enabled bot builders to use Azure Bot Framework Composer and Power Virtual Agents together to build bots. Both products are optimized for different audiences and have a complementary set of strengths:

  • Bot Framework Composer allows professional developers to write custom Bot Framework Composer adaptive dialog code, manipulate data, use eventing, and embed conversational cards.
  • Power Virtual Agents allows subject matter experts to easily create a bot, publish it to a channel, get analytics and insights and manage it end-to-end—all from a multi-tenant software as a service (SaaS) experience.

Bot builders have used the existing integration between Power Virtual Agents and Bot Framework Composer to create advanced conversational experiences for over a year now—and it’s proven very popular. So, that’s why I’m excited to announce that we’re bringing these complementary strengths together into one, single unified bot building studio.

This new bot building approach combines the advanced functionality of Bot Framework Composer with the ease-of-use and end-to-end bot building experience of Power Virtual Agents. Now, professional developers and subject matter experts can easily collaborate within the same studio to build powerful conversational bots and IVRs.

And with this evolution—and the deep and continuing integration of Bot Framework Composer and Microsoft Cognitive Services—it’s also the single, unified conversational AI studio from Microsoft for subject matter experts and developers alike.

Fusion teams and collaboration

Gartner® describes digital fusion teams as “multidisciplinary teams that blend technology and other types of domain expertise and are often designed to deliver products rather than projects”. With this growing trend, Gartner also claims that at least 84 percent of companies have set up fusion teams.1 We believe these fusion teams of collaborative builders are pivotal to the success of digital projects such as conversational bot building.

As Power Virtual Agents is part of the Microsoft Power Platform suite, we are continuing to invest in making collaboration across fusion teams easier with capabilities like multi-authoring, Office-like commenting, and more—furthering the vision of Power Virtual Agents as a collaborative bot building tool for teams.

Advanced authoring

Our third area of focus is adding rich and powerful authoring capabilities—from developer focused features for complex dialog management to low-code experiences such as engaging multi-media responses. These include:

  • Making conversations richer with integrated support for rich multi-media responses (images, videos, adaptive cards, and quick replies).
  • Making it easy to store, transform, reuse, and work with data, a common need for professional developers. Using the integrated Power Fx editor, builders can connect to a custom API using Microsoft Power Platform connectors, get back a response, parse it, and easily transform the information using Power Fx for use within the conversation.
  • Advanced conversation flows and logic using variables, loops, and advanced conversational flows.
  • Enabling your bot to react to events—such as when a spot opens up or a package arrives—with event extensibility and contextual triggers (coming soon).

Interactive voice responses (IVRs) and telephony

I’m excited to announce that we have expanded Power Virtual Agents from a bot builder to a complete end-to-end IVR builder. You can now create your bot, acquire a telephone number, publish the bot behind it, and have your users talking to it over the phone. And you can do all this with just a few clicks from inside Power Virtual Agents. Building powerful IVRs for your contact centers has never been simpler.

Summary

Get access to the powerful governance management and compliance capabilities of the Microsoft Power Platform. Admins can utilize the unified admin center to control their bots and data, all within an easy-to-use multi-tenant SaaS. Features coming soon include:

All of these capabilities continue to be available in Power Virtual Agents globally distributed, multi-tenant SaaS. There’s no infrastructure to manage, no services to stand up, no models to train—just sign up, work together with your subject matter experts and developers to build your bot or IVR, connect it to your backend systems, publish it to Microsoft Teams, Facebook, a telephone number or the channel of your choice, and get built-in analytics and insights on what to build next—all from the same pane of glass.

And with that SaaS, of course, comes all the powerful governance, management, and compliance capabilities of Microsoft Power Platform. Power Virtual Agents is available in government clouds and is Fedramp certified. It’s Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST) certified for healthcare scenarios. It’s payment card industry (PCI) compliant to handle payment scenarios. It is available across geos, has configurable data loss prevention policies, and gives admins complete control over their data.

You can launch the Power Virtual Agents click-through demo to explore the features we’re bringing to Power Virtual Agents.

Be sure to watch these sessions below to learn more or continue reading to find out more about the features we’re lighting up in each of the themes above.

Feature deep dive

Unified bot building for Microsoft

Power Virtual Agents’ authoring canvas has been designed and re-built from the ground up, with powerful new capabilities for authoring bots.

Pro developers will now be able to access the advanced functionalities they know and love from Bot Framework Composer right in Power Virtual Agents, including features for working with complex logic and connecting to their external line of business applications.

This existing integration has been very popular amongst bot creators, but the seams between the two separate products remain a source of friction.

That’s why we’re bringing these complementary strengths from both platforms together so all bot creators can build within a single, unified bot building studio.

Two graphical user interfaces of Power Virtual Agents low code canvas joining with the Bot Framework Composer's pro code canvas joining into one Microsoft bot building studio called Power Virtual Agents.

Retaining the intuitive experience that exists today, the new canvas will feature an expanded set of improved and entirely new node capabilities for topics, discoverable through a new menu and flexible property pane.

The new Power Virtual Agents user interface showcasing that it has been rebuilt from the ground up. It shows an example conversational topic design with branching based on the condition of the question.You can even easily move between the visual editor and code, depending on your needs. You will be able to view and edit the code behind your topics, which is great for sharing and re-using topic logic between developers and bots.

Fusion teams and collaboration

Across Microsoft Power Platform, we are continuing to make investments to make the collaboration across fusion teams easier—and for bot builders in Power Virtual Agents here are some significant areas of investment:

Multi-authoring

Already available in Power Virtual Agents today, makers can share their bots to users who can edit, manage, and collaborate. You can easily see who’s working on each conversational topic in the bot and those that had recently made changes. Easily invite colleagues from different departments to work on different topics on the bot or ask a pro-dev colleague for help to hook up a topic to a backend.

Office-like commenting

Builders can seamlessly collaborate throughout the bot building process with an Office-like commenting system. Now, both pro-developers and low-code developers can work together in one space while providing feedback in real time. Users are also notified via email when @-mentioned within the topic, making it simple to jump back into the Power Virtual Agents canvas.

Advanced authoring

We’re announcing a host of powerful advanced conversational capabilities for makers.

Rich multi-media responses

With new rich response capabilities, makers can go beyond text replies to provide rich, compelling, and engaging experiences to end users. We’ve made it easy to include interactive conversational elements directly in dialogues, all without leaving the authoring canvas.

Builders can use one or more of the following in each conversation node:

  • Images and videos: Add quickly with a simple URL.
  • Basic and adaptive cards: Create, preview, and test with JavaScript Object Notation (JSON). The JSON can be automatically converted into a Power Fx record so you can assign the variables you would like to use in the card.
  • Quick replies or ‘suggested actions’: Offer quick pre-made responses to end users, which are especially useful during greetings because you can provide a hint as to the bot’s capabilities.
  • Dynamic responses: Provide variations of the response when asking a question or sending a message. One will be chosen at random to be sent to your users during their conversation. Perfect for regular visitors.

This image provides four examples of multi-media responses in Power Virtual Agents. This includes from left to right, Images and videos, adaptive cards, quick replies and dynamic responses. These are examples to what the building experience would be for each.

These new options allow for a host of potential use cases, like confirming order details with images of products, sharing helpful videos for onboarding, and generating quotes with multi-input forms.

Tip: You can find adaptive card templates at Adaptive Cards.

Power Fx and variable management

It will now be even easier to store, transform, reuse and work with data within Power Virtual Agents. Builders can use the new set variable node or store variables based off questions to assign and manipulate values. These can persist across conversation topics and sessions. This allows for more intelligent and natural conversations and is great for engaging returning users.

Power Virtual Agents is also joining the Power Fx ecosystem. With Power Fx, developers can use Excel-like formulas to create complex logic for data and advanced variable manipulation. This low-code tool allows for more sophisticated conversations and can even be used for conditions.

Popular Power Fx uses:

  • Date manipulation (date dif, date add, and date format)
  • Math calculations (sum and average)
  • Text formatting (concat and numeric)

New variable types

We are introducing List and Record variable types, along with new nodes to loop over and manage Lists and the ability to dynamically supply multi-choice options for the Ask a Question node.

Coming soon: Event extensibility and contextual triggers

With this new capability, builders will have more control over how bots react to different situations, like react or trigger an event if it detects a certain value has been received or add more nuanced responses to a message when the bot runs into an issue.

Examples:

  • Send a custom event when a value is true or false
  • Trigger the start of a conversation when an event is received

An example of the event extensibility and contextual triggers capability. It shows a conversation topic design with a trigger identifying overlapping topics which then results in a question for did you mean.

Interactive voice responses and telephony

As Power Virtual Agents stands today, builders can create sophisticated messaging-based bots. Now, we’re taking that one step further by providing builders the option to give their bot a voice and connect over the telephone.

Multi-modality with speech authoring

Authors can create multi-channel dialogs specifically to handle speech scenarios side-by-side with messaging. Authors can make additional responses to be used on speech modalities alongside the text version, meaning you can truly build once and use anywhere.

Power Virtual Agents will also offer sophisticated capabilities like inserting Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML) into speech responses to tune speech characteristics and additional customizations including silence detection, configurable timeouts, and the ability to choose from a variety of voice fonts.

Telephony channel

Our new telephony channel in Power Virtual Agents is built on the enterprise-grade Azure Communication Service (ACS) offering. With the telephony channel, you’ll be able to acquire an ACS phone number or set up an ACS direct routing configuration, enabling your bot to interact with people directly over the phone or via an integration with other applications.

We are also providing the ability to author bots to support dual-tone multi-frequency signaling (DTMF) and interruptions to allow for a greater user experience.

Coming soon: Hand off to third-party contact centers

Connecting your bot with your existing contact centers will allow you to leverage Power Virtual Agents bots in your existing workflows and ensure your customers get help faster on any channel.

SaaS, enterprise governance, and compliance

There is no infrastructure to manage, no services to stand up—everything above can be created and deployed in our easy-to-use multi-tenant SaaS, available globally.

Power Virtual Agents also makes it easier for IT admins to have greater control of Power Virtual Agents’ use across an organization with the enhanced enterprise security and governance capabilities.

Global by default

Compliance offerings

Coming soon: Data loss prevention support

Data loss prevention policy enables administrators to protect their organization’s data.

Administrators can create policies in the Microsoft Power Platform admin center and Power Virtual Agents connectors to protect makers in their organization against intentional or unintentional data exfiltration.

An example of the new data loss prevention support for Power Virtual Agents. It shows the 3 types of categories for data loss prevention policies, business, non-business and blocked. Non-business is being showcased with example blockable connectors like skills for Power Virtual Agents.

Coming soon: Customer Lockbox support

Customer Lockbox enables administrators to control access to their organization data from Microsoft personnel during troubleshooting.

Administrators can turn on Customer Lockbox for their tenants, and they can view data access requests from Microsoft personnel and approve or deny them as the final gatekeeper.

The customer lockbox feature capability. In the Power Platform admin centre, it shows a request that is pending to access the customer data that can be approved or denied.

How can I try the new features?

A selection of the features announced in this blog will be available via the Public Preview coming soon. In the mean time, you can try out the Power Virtual Agents click-through demo.

Can I use Power Virtual Agents today?

You can continue to use Power Virtual Agents today. If you’re new, we announced a limited time offer for Power Virtual Agents in April that is available until September 2022. With this offer, you can purchase Power Virtual Agents at a cheaper price to begin your bot building journey now. You can purchase directly via the website or speak to your Microsoft or licensing solution provider.

Got questions?

You can sign up for these Ask the Experts sessions:

Our panel of Microsoft experts will be available to answer all your questions.

Hear from customers accelerating their bot building with fusion teams

Hear from PwC, the City of Ottawa, and Progressive on how Power Virtual Agents enables professional developers and fusion teams to achieve more.

“Fusion development is the emerging software model that is helping companies reimagine their low-code ecosystem. It’s creating a landscape where professional developers and digitally advanced users can collaborate together—where everyone has a role to play in engineering creative solutions and the opportunities are endless to drive significant impact.”—Dushyanthkumar Chandramouli, Technology Director for Local Services, PwC. Learn more about PwC’s customer story.

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“With Power Virtual Agents, the real winner is this relationship between IT and the client that is harmonious and allows each party to do what they do best to make a good product without the workload of either party being shoved on to the other.”—Jeffery Kozera, Senior Automation Developer and Integrator, City of Ottawa. Learn more about City of Ottawa’s customer story.

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“That’s the power of fusion development: professional developers work alongside non-coder users (who become citizen developers) to address business requirements. Users are involved throughout the development lifecycle, breaking down the “glass wall” that’s frequently found between non-coders and professional developers. That’s what pushed us to Power Virtual Agents.”—Roger Reese: IT DevOps Engineer Lead, Progressive. Learn more about Progressive’s customer story.

 

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1Gartner, Fusion Teams: A New Model for Digital Delivery, 4 February 2021

GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.