Microsoft Power Virtual Agents – (Or, how to talk to a Machine)

One of the Big Pillars of the Power Platform is Microsoft Power Virtual Agents (or PVA’s). What is a Power Virtual Agent? Its a Chatbot! Microsoft has been delving into the Chatbot space for awhile now, especially in Teams, however, chatbots in teams have historically been developed with the Bot Framework. The Bot Framework is all about custom code, but since PVA’s are made using the Power Platform, we’re going Low-Code for these!

Why Care about Chatbots?

If you’ve surfed the web, ordered something online, or even asked Alexa for today’s temperature, you’ve most likely run across a chatbot. They can be used in all sorts of scenarios, and provide an automated way of allowing your customers or even end users asks questions and get responses based on those Questions. As automation becomes more and more ubiquitous in our business processes, Chatbots can help fill a vital bridge between your users and your systems. I can tell you, that in my job, many of my daily activities are just answering questions. Questions from my clients, and questions from my co-workers. I can guarantee, if my bosses could suck out all my knowledge and augment my activities with a chatbot, they absolutely would 🙂

How can Power Virtual Agents help?

With Power Virtual Agents, we can bring the low-code revolution to our chatbots! The Power Virtual Agent designer provides a visual interface in which you can add Questions, Responses, Conditions and Actions, and then publish your chatbots to Teams, or embed them into a Website. By creating your PVA’s with low code, you have a much more rapid development to production pipeline, which also make it so much easier to refine your chatbots over time.

In addition to just creating the chatbots, they also come with a wealth of analytics, so you can monitor and refine the performance of your Questions, answers, and actions, to help you improve on what they chatbot can, and should handle for your customers:

What if I want the PVA to do more than what is offered?

PVA’s are all about bringing low-code chatbots to your organization, but they’re not strictly limited to low-code. You can absolutely extend the functionality of a PVA with the Bot Framework through the use of Skills. Skills are solutions of custom code that can perform a series of actions that can be called by the PVA to perform complex operations. These operations can be anything from writing to a database or connecting to Azure Services to handle these actions.

In additional to skills, there are AI capabilities which are currently in Preview on the platform. These AI capabilities include the personalization of conversations with the PVA, as well as the ability to automatically suggest topics over time based on end user interactions with the PVA.

These PVA’s sound cool, but how much do they cost?

The good news with PVA’s is that the licensing model is very simple. For retail, it’s $1,000 per month for 2,000 sessions (A sessions being a two way conversation between the chatbot and the end user), and there is an add-on license of $450 per month for each additional 1,000 sessions. While that may give you some sticker shock pause, the ease of which you can get these up and running and assisting your end users can be an enticing alternative to months of custom coding and testing which can cost even more.

I hope this primer has been helpful to assist you with getting a basic understanding of Power Virtual Agents As always, please feel free to reach out to me at jo.karnes@centricconsulting.com if you have any questions.

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