Build your first Power Automate Desktop flow



Repetitive tasks consume many workers' days, decreasing productivity and creating a less-engaging work environment. Robotic process automation (RPA) allows you to outsource those tasks to user-friendly software, freeing your time for more important or creative endeavors. Microsoft Power Automate allows you to build that automation from start to finish by using Power Automate flows. Building desktop flows is the first step in designing your RPA solution.

In this article, you will:

  • Learn about Power Automate flows.
  • Create a new desktop flow.
  • Record actions that are performed in a desktop-based application.
  • Perform a test run of the new desktop flow.

Set up the environment

Creating and running automation systems in Power Automate requires you to have access to make changes to the environments in your tenant and to have the appropriate licenses and permissions. If you don't already have admin access to a valid tenant, you might want to start a free trial. In addition, you will need a Power Automate user plan with attended RPA license to complete this module. You can sign up for a free trial if you don't already have this license.

Create a trial environment with database

After you have successfully signed in to a valid tenant, go to the Microsoft Power Platform admin center. You will need to create a trial environment with a database. Select Environments and then select your automatically created environment, Demo (default).

If you are using an existing tenant rather than creating a trial for this exercise, you can use the default environment or create a new one to keep it separate from your existing solutions.

Now that you are in your chosen environment, add a database by selecting Add database. In the subsequent dialog box, you can specify the requested values but can keep the defaults. Select Add. You might be prompted to sign in again before creating your database, after which your database should provision appropriately.

Creating your database might take up to one minute; afterward, you can continue to the next steps.

If you are using a trial environment, consider setting up a profile in your browser to prevent from being signed out of your existing Microsoft account.

Software installation

The following exercises will require various software to be installed on your computer. The following steps will guide you through the download and installation of Power Automate, the required extensions, and the Contoso Invoicing app.

If you have already installed Power Automate, ensure that you are running the latest available version.

Power Automate

Go to Power Automate and sign in with the account that you used to create your environment and database. After you have signed in, select My flows > Install > Power Automate.

When the download completes, select the file to open and run the installer. Select Next and, on the subsequent screen, select the final check box and then select Install. This action will install the Power Automate and the browser extensions for Microsoft Edge and Google Chrome.

When the installation is complete, select the link of your preferred browser and then follow the instructions to enable the extension. After the extension has been enabled, you can launch the Power Automate app.

After launching the app, sign in by using the account that you used to set up your environment and database.

Contoso Invoicing app

A major benefit of using desktop flows is the ability to perform actions on desktop applications. For the flow that you will create, you will use an invoicing application to explore the concepts and actions that are available to you in desktop flows. After completing the module, you can use what you have learned to run desktop flows on your own applications and automate existing processes.

Download the Contoso Invoicing app, extract the contents and then install the application and explore the elements.

Now you're ready to get into the details of Power Automate.

Explore Power Automate Desktop

You have now downloaded the appropriate software and have the necessary licenses to create your first desktop flow. Your next task is to become familiar with the software.

Open and explore Power Automate. The upper-right corner indicates which environment you are in. Take a moment to make sure that this is the same environment that you created a database for previously. Under Flows, you will see existing desktop flows that you have, and you will be able to edit, start, or delete them. You can explore what creating or editing a flow looks like by selecting the + New flow button in the upper-left corner.

Name your flow and then select Create. The specifics of the name aren't important; it's temporary and meant to help you become familiar with the app. You will delete this flow shortly.

After you have created your new test flow, the Power Automate designer will display. The designer contains several elements for you to focus on:

  • The toolbar (A) - Contains basic operations for use with actions (SaveUndoCopyDebug, and Paste) and buttons to start the desktop/web recorders and control the process implementation (Start/Pause/Stop).
  • Subflows (B) - Allows you to create subflows under your Main flow.
  • Actions pane (C) - Contains all Power Automate actions and includes a search bar that helps you find specific actions by matching the action name to the text string.
  • Workspace (D) - Contains all actions that are added to the process so far. Functions are separated into tabs.
  • Input/output variables (E) - Contains all variables that you created in the process.
  • Flow variables (F) - List of all variables that are used in the process.

Save your flow and close the window. You should now see your new flow in the list. Select the ellipsis (...) button to expand the options for that flow and then delete it.

Now that you're familiar with Power Automate, you can create a flow.

Create your first Power Automate Desktop flow

Go to Power Automate. Ensure that you are signed in and are in the appropriate environment. Under My flows, select Desktop flows > Launch app.

Select Launch app and then open Power Automate from the subsequent dialog box. The desktop app will open in the designer with a new flow named "Untitled," which you can change later.

Desktop flows are created to mimic the actions of a user who is performing steps in a process. You have to train the flow by adding those actions.

To add actions to your flow, select the desired action and then drag it to the Main canvas. Under the System drop-down menu on the Actions Pane, select and drag Run Application. You will use this feature to open your invoicing application.

In the following dialog box, specify the path to the application by entering the location manually; however, by selecting the icon on the right, you can select the application from a file explorer. You can search in the file explorer if you don't know the exact location of your application.

Leave the remaining fields as they are and then select Save.

Now that Power Automate has opened the application, you can complete the next actions. Previously, you chose from the actions on the Action Pane; however, a simpler way of communicating actions that need to be performed is by recording your desktop. The next unit provides instructions on how you can record your desktop.

Record Power Automate Desktop actions

Before getting started, you should be aware of a couple cleanup items. First, the process will go more smoothly if you exit out of unnecessary applications while you're recording. If you have more browsers or programs running, you should close them now. Second, it will be difficult to read the instructions and perform the actions that are required for the recording simultaneously. You might want to read through this unit completely before performing the outlined steps. With those items out of the way, you are now ready to begin recording.

To begin recording your desktop actions, open the Contoso Invoicing app and the Desktop recorder in Power Automate. If your application is not maximized, the desktop recorder will show as an icon without text in the toolbar. Select the Start recording button in Power Automate.

As you record, make sure that you go slowly and wait several seconds between actions. A red outline will display on a control before you select it, and a blue highlight will display afterward. If these outlines and highlights do not appear, your actions might not be recorded properly.

In the Contoso Invoicing app, select Invoices and then create a new record by selecting the appropriate icon in the upper left.

Complete the required information for the invoice: DateAccountContactAmount, and Status. You can use whatever values you want, or you could copy the values that are used in the following screenshot. Edit the Date field, even if it has the value that you want. This action will allow you to change it through the flow instead of always having to use the default date. Be sure to only use your mouse, not keyboard shortcuts, to go to the next field. You can pause the recording or delete actions if you make a mistake.

When you're finished, select the Save icon to save your record.

Return to the recording, put it in Power Automate, and then select Finish. Your recorded actions should look similar to the following screenshot.

After you have selected Finish, your newly recorded actions will display beneath the action to open your app. The action of closing the app was not recorded. Additionally, this unit didn't demonstrate how running your flow will result in a new instance of the app being open for every run.

Edit and test recorded actions

You can edit the recording actions by selecting the ellipsis (...) button and then by selecting Edit. In the subsequent dialog box, you can correct mistakes that you made during recording.

You can also Delete unnecessary or duplicate steps in this menu.

Test your flow by selecting the Run icon in the toolbar. Avoid using your computer to perform actions while the test is running.

When your test is successful, select the Save icon.