Microsoft Virtual Agent and Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations

Bots!  Bots everywhere!

AI and bot power in the workplace

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and autonomous chatbots have been all the rage recently. So what’s all this sci-fi have to do with you running your manufacturing business or retail store? Turns out, EVERYTHING! The automation of menial tasks combined with the computing power to process large sets of data allows even the smallest of businesses to scale and offer amazing customer experiences like never before. And as Microsoft works to bring these enterprise level tools to all consumers, products like Dynamics 365 Customer Insights and Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent make it easier than ever to reach your audience.

Dynamics 365 Customer Insights dashboard

Azure bot framework and work we’ve done in the past

If you’ve been following our blogs, this might not seem new. Almost 2 years ago, we outlined how to leverage the Azure bot framework to build a simple chatbot. That walk-through shows in simple terms how to load your own knowledge base or even extend the intelligence of your creation with Microsoft’s language recognition service Luis.ai. This was powerful stuff at the time, and showed where Microsoft thinks the future of their business applications are moving.

AI meets Dynamics 365

Microsoft has gone a step further this month by releasing what’s effectively BAAS or “bot as a service.” In the new Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent platform, you can tweak your knowledge base and deploy a bot in minutes. With a few extra clicks, you’ve deployed your bot to your own website and can trace customer interactions with built-in reporting surfaced through PowerBI.

Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent analytics

Even in preview, this worked exceptionally well and I assume more features will roll out as adoption increases and the product gets generally released to market. I can imagine our customers easily deploying these bots to help reduce call volume from generic questions, improve customer service and even provide help desk and knowledge base access over time. Features like this, coupled with an active Dynamics CRM, will give you the power of tools only your biggest competitors could afford. It’s easy to see how Dynamics gives your company a competitive advantage within an industry.

Integration with Power Platform and flow

What impressed me most about the new app was the look and feel of Microsoft Flow. The UI and experience will seem familiar to anyone using Dynamics 365, and especially those of you who have been dabbling with Microsoft Flow. Beyond the gorgeous looks, you can actually integrate with Flow and reach hundreds of other connections with just a little extra work. This effectively will extend your bot to endless opportunities, and is more exciting than I could have imagined.

Microsoft Flow connectors

Don’t be intimidated if you’re not familiar with Flow. It’s powerful – dare I say fun. If you haven’t played with it yet I really encourage you to give it a try. Check out a few ideas we’ve had for Flow recently and find out for yourself what you’ve been missing.

Great background, but let’s see Dynamics 365 Virtual Agent

To try out the new Virtual Agent, we wanted to test a real-world example – checking shipping status of an order created in Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations. We started by deploying the demo bot, and then made a few simple changes. Here are the basics:

First…

We adjusted the Shipping Policy Conversation to include some specifics about answering tracking information questions. The demo dataset is geared more around a brick and mortar store it seems, and we wanted something closer to what our Dynamics 365 customers would experience.

A neat feature here is to turn Tracing on and as you ask questions you can follow along in the tree to see the logic as it gets called.

Second…

We built out a few Flows to leverage some additional logic to call and to integrate with Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations.

Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement Virtual Agent with Finance and Operations

Microsoft Flow interacting with Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations This allows us to leverage standard Dynamics 365 entities for data integration. A nice feature of the Virtual Agent framework is it allows you to record user interaction as variables and then pass them to a flow. Here’s another simple example of using that to create a custom greeting: Link here. We’ve augmented this a little bit to interact with Dynamic 365 for Finance and Operations, but it’s done in basically the same way.

Next…

Once the Flows are built, we can call them from the chat bot by selecting an action in the workflow node.

If you’re going to try this yourself, make sure your flows are entered in the Common Data Services Default Solution solution, or they might not show up consistently in the “Actions” drop down.

Finally…

We deployed the bot and embedded it on our website for you to try!

Want to play with it on your own? Here it is! https://www.dynamicconsulting.com/virtual-agent

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