Automate Desktop

Overview of Actions

Chapter 5 | Automate 101

Automate has more than 600 pre-built actions to choose from. This video provides you with an overview and description of each available action. Join automation expert Richard Schoen as he provides an overview of all the automation actions available in Automate. He goes through each individual action and explains how you can use them to get the most out of Automate. In this video, you’ll learn:

  • Where to find the actions in the Automate Task Builder
  • An overview of each of the pre-built actions available in Automate
  • Actions related to Amazon Web Services, Azure, Microsoft applications, and more apps

Watch this chapter now for your overview of the actions in Automate.

 

Transcript

 

[Richard Schoen:] In this video, we will do a short overview of all the automation actions available in Automate. This video will give you a general overview of all the different types of actions in Automate and Automate Enterprise, and how they might be utilized in your automation processes. We'll walk through each of the action groups to provide a little background to get you thinking about use cases, but in this video we won't be going through all the actions in detail.

The Active Directory actions can be used to create, update, or delete users into Active Directory for user onboarding. They can also be used to perform regular audits on Active Directory users by querying a list of users, and then perhaps exporting the data to an Excel spreadsheet, or other reporting output types such as CSV, or into a database.

The next group of actions describe interacting with Amazon Web Services. Using the Amazon actions assumes your team already has access to an Amazon cloud service provider subscription. The Amazon Dynamo DB database activities, allow your tasks to interact with Amazon Dynamo DB databases if you're using that service. The Amazon EC2 activities allow your tasks to interact with, and manage Amazon EC2 server instances, if you're hosting any Windows or Linux servers in the cloud.

The Amazon RDS or Relational Database Service activities, allow your tasks to set up, operate and scale a relational database in the Amazon cloud. The Amazon Simple Storage Service or S3 activities allow your tasks to automate common S3 storage operations such as creating and managing buckets, and storing and retrieving file objects.

The Amazon SES, or Simple Email Service activities allow your tasks to automate creating accounts and identities, and sending email messages via the Amazon cloud. The Amazon SDS, or Simple Database Service activities allow your tasks to automate common to complex simple DB queries, and other operations via the Amazon cloud.

The Amazon SQS, or Simple Queue can create and manage messages, and message queues as well as send and receive queued messages via the Amazon cloud. The Array activities enable Arrays to be created and used during task execution. The AS2 activities allow tasks to automate EDI or AS2 related operations, such as creating, and sending messages, decoding messages, and verifying receipts.

The Automate action comprises individual activities that enable automation of common processes that are specific to the Automate program, such as backing up automate tasks, writing to the Automate log, or shutting down Automate. The automate action is not available in Automate Enterprises, backups are handled via SQL server.

The Automate Schedule action enables additional advanced automation capabilities with Automate Schedule through Automate. Automate schedules integration with automate allows users to create server objects in Automate Schedule that represent an Automate or an Automate Enterprise installation, and have the ability to build complex or semi-complex scheduled jobs that execute a task or a workflow on a selected Automate and Automate Enterprise server.

Automate Schedule is aware of defined Automate Enterprise servers, and can run tasks or workflows on those servers, and wait until the task is complete before moving onto the next command in the Automate Scheduled job, can capture the return code of the task or workflow, and capture the command line output, and add it to the job log in Automate Schedule.

The Azure activities allow access to Microsoft Azure cloud storage automation with a comprehensive set of Windows Azure storage activities including Blob, Entity, Table, Queue and message related activities. The basic action allows custom VB scripting to be used in Automate to create your own custom functions as needed. This can also be used to include existing BB scripting or Microsoft Active X automation into an Automate task.

The clipboard action contains various activities that can automate all Windows clipboard operations, along with the basic cut, copy, paste, and clear clipboard activities, this action comprises a get clipboard activity which retrieves the current contents of the clipboard as text, and places it in a variable, and a set clipboard activity which allows you to set the clipboard to the text specified.

The compression activities automate the ability to compress and/or decompress data in a specific directory. It supports all major compression types, including ZIP, JAR, jZip, TAR, and 7-Zip among others. Other features include the ability to password protect encrypted data, and change the level at which files are compressed.

The computer activities provide a task to automate various Windows start power menu functions such as lock, restart, shutdown, logoff, suspend and hibernate. The cryptography activities allow the encryption and decryption of files without external encryption software. Tasks can also create or delete key containers, generate both public and private keys from existing key containers, and digitally sign files using newly generated private keys. Supports PGP, and several of the associated encryption options used most by businesses today for file encryption.

The database activities enable creation of sophisticated data driven applications without the need to write code. Database that are supported includes SQL Server, Oracle, IBM, Mysql, PostgreSQL, and any other ODBC or .NET database drivers available. These activities can help automate report generation and distribution, run DTS packages, or other similar database maintenance processes automatically, and also allow expansion of tasks to do even more using Automates library of 600 actions and activities.

The DDE or Dynamic Data Exchange activities enable the automation of operations that a DDE Windows client usually performs, such as the ability to send requests and commands to a DDE server application. DDE is not really used in modern applications that use API calls, but is still supported by Automate.

The dialogue action contains various dialog activities, each displaying its own unique dialogue window during runtime. The type of dialogue displayed is dependent upon the desired user interaction. Additionally, accustomed dialogue activity can be used to create your own dialogue boxes in situations where a normal Windows message box may not be enough.

The DLL or Dynamic Link Library action can execute a specified function in a Windows or .NET DLL. Writing custom .NET DLL's with specific business logic is a great way to extend the Automate environment. It's similar to creating your own actions within Automate, even though they don't show up in the action list. Parameters can be sent into and returned from DLL calls for seamless integration.

The dynamic CRM activities automate a variety of common CRM operations in order to ensure consistency in how businesses interact with their customers. They can be used for creating, updating or deleting contacts, retrieving audit records, tracking specific information, and uploading and downloading attachments.

The email action is a great way to send and receive email messages. Combined with the exchange action, Automate presents an effective email attendant that allows you to automate common to complex email operations, and simultaneously manage several email accounts from as many mail servers as required.

The environment variable activities automate the creation, manipulation and management of environment variables in a Windows based operating system without the use of scripts or the command line. Activities include the ability to get, set, list, and delete environment variables as well as appendage it to an existing environment variable.

The event log activities allow custom events to be logged in a purely automated fashion. Developers can control the type of event to write into the Windows event log, by specifying a level of value such as a warning or an error. This action can also be used along with the event log trigger, as a way to launch other tasks upon arrival of a specific event.

When you work with Microsoft Excel, you usually select one or more cells and then perform an action, such as formatting the cells, entering values in them or retrieving current values. The Excel action encompasses a variety of activities that are capable of automating, creating, reading, and writing to spreadsheets, using Excel Automation. Automating these operations help save time, and eliminates errors. This action is also capable of running existing Excel Macros as part of a fully automated sequence.

The exchange action comprises a variety of activities that can be used to automate common operations on exchange objects, such as the ability to create calendars or appointments, delete context, modify tasks, and retrieve email. This action supports Exchange 2003, which uses the WebDAV protocol as well as Exchange 2007 and 2010 and 2016, which use the EWS, Exchange Web Service protocol.

Office 365 email handling is also supported. The file system action encompasses a comprehensive collection of activities for automating all file and folder related operations. Activities include the ability to copy, delete, or rename files and folders, read from a file and write to a file.

Other activities include the ability to retrieve information about files such as metadata and check some values as well as the ability to split or concatenate files and synchronized folders among others.

The FTP action is used to automate any FTP operation, including downloads, uploads, renames, folder creations, deletions, and more. Automates internal FTP engine is compatible with all FTP connection methods, including FTP, FTPS and SFTP.

The HTTP action contains activities that are ideal for automating common HTTP and other rest based web service call operations such as get, put, post, delete, and more. HTTP requests are sent directly instead of automating a browser to perform such operations. This action also supports HTTPS protocols, which is a combination of HTTP with the SSL TLS protocol to provide encrypted communication and secure identification of a network web server.

In programming, the if statement is used to run code based on conditions. This allows programs the ability to perform different operations in response to different conditions. Automate's if activities encompass the same capabilities, but with a more user friendly approach. They enable complex decision making based on variable data within the context of a task.

Developers and designers must deal with editing and converting many images by hand, which can be time consuming. Automate's image action consists of activities that can greatly reduce the time it takes to perform such a process. For example, you can create a single task that reduces the size of an image, applies a filter for a particular effect, and converts the image file to the desired format.  In addition, you can integrate loop related activities to run this task in hundreds, or thousands, of images. The image action is also a nice way to take screen shots for interactive tasks.

With the 'input' action, automation of GUI related tasks can be performed by simulating mouse movement, mouse clicks, and keyboard presses. Enabling tasks to control a pc with simple commands. When building a task using the input actions, you select the proper activities to replicate the actions that you would normally perform manually. Such as move mouse, click mouse, or send key strokes. Once a few steps have been entered, you can save them or easily test playback at the click of a button.

This makes you more productive and let's you do something more meaningful, or enjoyable, with your time. Using the input action combined with the inner activity action, helps to automate simple, or complex GUI related operations.

Automate includes numerous interactive related activities that can impersonate screen object selection or any form of desktop interaction, that a user would normally perform manually. The move mouse to object activity simulates moving the cursor to a specific object, or control, in a window. The press activity simulates moving the cursor to an object and clicking that object, all within one step.

Such activities communicate with the target windows control natively. Therefore the window where the control resides, is not required to be in the foreground for the event to occur.

Other activities such as 'get text' or 'set text,' allow you to easily extract text from input text to a specific window on your desktop.

Use these activities combined with the input activities to automate simple to complex GUI screen related operations.

The JSON action contains activities that allow you to decode and end code JSON, or JavaScript Object Notation objects. This is a great way to format data for a web service call into JSON format. It's also a nice way to parse a response data set, so that it can be consumed and processed and automate, just like any other data set.

Use the label action to label a step in a task with a specific name. A label is used with a Goto activity, and/or on error Goto option, found in each action on error properties. This allows redirection of task execution to the label specified on errors, or other odd conditions. Try to use the Goto statement sparingly, if at all. However, sometimes a Goto is a nice way to jump to the end of a task to perform logging, or some other activity before exiting a task, when an error occurs. Like, you still want some post-processing to occur.

The loop action. In computer programming, a loop is a fundamental, yet powerful technique that is commonly used in writing programs. A loop is a sequence or a block of instructions that is continually repeated, a specified number of times, or until a certain condition is reached. It allows a very simple operation to produce a more effective result, simply by performing repetition.

Similar to the concept of loops in programming, the loop action, in automate, allows repeated execution of a group of steps. Activities include the ability to loop through data sets, files, processes, lists, and more, for dynamic automation.

Microsoft Message Queuing technology enables applications to communicate with each other in an effective and dependable manner. Even in unreliable distributed environments, where intermediate servers, or systems, may not always be available. This is made possible due to the fact that messages are not exchanged directly between applications, but rather through a message queue, which is a temporary storage location from which messages can be sent and received reliably. Applications that run at different times, can essentially send messages to queues and receive messages from queues at their convenience.

Automates MSM queue action provides a reliable and secure way to automate message delivery and retrieval with Microsoft Message Queuing. It contains individual activities that let you create, send, retrieve, clear, delete, or wait for MSM Queue messages on a local or remote machine.

The multi-media action automates the action of controlling the optical drive, playing specific audio, and/or adjusting the system volume. In an automated environment, these activities can be used at notification tools. For example, a play audio or CD control activity, can be used in a task as a way to alert the user. It can also be used as an alarm clock or server audio notification.

The network action contains activities used to automate various network related operations, such as establishing a network connection, mapping or unmapping a network drive, or sending a ping request to a computer.

The OCR, or Optical Character Recognition action provides new opportunities and techniques with regards to combining OCR capabilities in an automated environment. It enables you to convert type written, hand written, or printed text, as well as text contained in images, to an automate variable or data set, making it possible to search for a word or phrase, store the text, and then make departmental routing decisions, or perhaps extract data from screen shots during an interactive process.

The open document spreadsheet action is similar to the excel action. Unlike the excel action, however, the open document spreadsheet action enables creation and management of spreadsheets without requiring excel to be installed on the system. This action not only supports spreadsheet generation and other basic file formatting features, but also supports a number of advanced features, such as importing as well as exporting spreadsheet data. Reading, writing, and modifying XLS 'X' files, XLS files, open document ODS files, CSV files, or HTML files. This makes it more convenient for developers to manipulate spreadsheet contents, format cells, and protect files.

The PDF action automates an assortment of common PDF operations. Activities include the ability to concatenate or merge two or more PDF documents, append new pages to an existing PDF file, extract pages, insert pages at a particular location in a file, or split one PDF into two or more documents. For added security, this action provides the ability to encrypt and decrypt PDF documents with either 40-bit, 128-bit, or 256-bit encryption, and also specify user passwords for further protection.

Powershell is a command line shell [enscripting 00:18:52] language for Microsoft Windows, that's built in the .net framework. Powershell's task automation framework allows administrators to perform administrative tasks on both local, and remote, Windows systems. Automate enables management and control for Powershell processing. With the use of the Powershell action, you can embed existing Powershell scripts or individual Powershell actions, into a task, or simply point to an external Powershell file, to allow for seamless integration of existing Powershell scripts, with other automate actions. To run unattended or scheduled Powershell operations, your team can simply add a schedule trigger.

The printer action can optimize printing resources and printing documents when they're required, not necessarily when they're generated. This action includes activities that can automate print jobs across various print queues, change the default printer, or remove a specific printer on the fly. It also contains an activity that can retrieve status and other properties, about any printer across the network. So you can better manage your printers and when print jobs should take place.

The processes action enables automation of most process management operations. This action comprises activities that can automate the act of starting, stopping, or controlling your process as well query a process, for specific types of information, such as names of loaded modules, number of consumed handles and sets of threads, start time, and much more.

You can also adjust the priorities of running programs so that badly behaved processes won't negatively impact the responsiveness of your computer. The available activities for this action supports management of both local and remote processes.

The registry action encompasses a variety of activities capable of automating many common registry configuration and management operations. Such as the ability to create, manipulate, rename, and delete registry keys, sub keys, or value data. This action also allows registry values to be read and stored. Which is ideal in situations when you may want to retrieve configuration data, for instance, to keep track of the software you install on the computer, or save data collected from an external application, so that it can be retrieved and used the next time the task is run.

The run action runs the program, application, or document specified. If a document is specified, the application associated with the document, will be used to open it. This action comprises some built in conveniences, such as the ability to wait for an application to finish loading, IE: be ready for input, or wait for it to complete its operation before continuing to the next step. The run action is commonly used to start an application or open a document in preparation to send keystrokes, mouse clicks, or other interactive steps, or to run a scheduled batch application in the background, at a scheduled time. Any Windows executable BAT file or other script can be called and integrated to a task, using the run action.

The security action enhances the security of an automation routine, by generating a strong password for a new AD user, perhaps. It can also be used to suspend the task's execution until the user properly authenticates themselves by entering your correct password. And then it can also be used to suspend execution of a task until a specific user is logged on.

The select action is a useful alternative to using an 'if' statement in a task. Like, any 'if' activity, this action allows decisions to be made during task execution, depending on the result of an expression. The difference is the speed and readability of the resulting task, when one of several decisions can be reached. For example, for a simple expression, such as "One equals one equals true," or "One is greater than two is false." It would be best to use the 'if' activity. For more complex decisions, where there are several possible answers, such as color equals red, blue, green, or yellow, select case activities would be a better choice. This is because select case presents the task's steps in a manner that is more readable, and at runtime the evaluation of the expression only occurs once, rather than needing to be repeated, if activities do multiple comparisons.

The services action provides various ways to automate the management of local or remote services. Using a variety of activities, you can easily automate operations, such as starting, stopping, installing, or uninstalling services. You can also query for a list of services installed on the system along with their current state.

The share point action is comprised of over 40 activities that enable automation of simple to complex share point operations. A couple of common use cases might be to upload or download documents to a document library, or read an update data in a share point list. Launching workflows and site creation and management, are also some potential use cases.

The SNMP, or Simple Network Management Protocol Action, is used to automate common SNMP network event commands, such as GET, or GET Bulk, GET next, send trap, set, and walk, providing server administrators and IT personnel a means to monitor a complete network infrastructure through simple Automate tasks. SNMP enables integration of Automate with any network monitoring software that supports sending or receiving SNMP events, including our InterMapper network monitoring mapping and dashboarding software.

Speech action enables interactions to be performed during run time via the windows' speed synthesis engine. Common uses would be to create a blind accessible system to read text data from the screen, create audible reminders and notifications, and web document reader applications.

The task action allows task level operations to be automated during run time. Activities include the ability to start a secondary task, also known as a child task or a sub-task from a parent task, or start another task as a separate thread. Other activities can disable or re-enable execution of other tasks if needed.

The telnet terminal action is often used to completely simulate the processes that a user typically performs during a terminal session. The terminal action allows legacy systems such as IMB i, 5250, Mainframe 3270, or SSH sessions of Linux, AIX, and other systems and devices that support SSH to be automated in the background without the need for additional third-party software. Terminal operations can be easily combined with any of the Automate actions for simple or complex terminal workflows.

Text manipulation is a way to administer and modify textual data, including text conversion, transformation, and extraction. Some common text operations include stripping of characters, or white space, converting words to upper or lowercase, adding or replacing characters and calculating character account for the selected text. Automate encompasses a variety of activities primarily designed to automate the management, modification, and enhancement of text. These time-saving activities are an important component for any task created that performs regular data and text editing procedures in large quantities, or in a repetitive manner.

A timer can be used to examine the sequence of an event or process taking place. This is an ideal way for developers to gage the total execution time of an individual task, or series of steps to perform time sensitive operations. A start timer activity creates a new session and begins the recording process and a stop timer activity marks its ending. The elapsed time is then output to an Automate variable. In addition, a re-timer activity can be use to gage the execution time between start timer and stop timer steps. Multiple timer operations can occur simultaneously within the same task, as long as each operation is designated by a unique session.

The Twitter action performs automated status message updates on a valid Twitter account. This action can update a status message upon schedule or when a certain event occurs. For example, the Twitter action can be used to perform internal updates on network issues for IT staff, or external Twitter communications on new products, or other subjects for marketing purposes. The action can also be used to perform a variety of other Twitter operations, such as get status, delete status, send direct message, get followers, and much more.

The type action is used to create an Automate object from the defined custom type or web service. This action can also be used to define a custom object type or object types defined in a web service, or import web service or DLL assembly types.

The variable action comprises various activities geared for the creation and management of variables and arrays. A developer can enter a value to initially populate the variable during creation, or the value field could be left blank initially. Variables could be set with a value using the set variable activity, which adds or changes the contents of an already existing variable. Certain available Automate actions that support populating variables can also set or modify a variable's contents, such as the input dialog activity which displays an input box allowing the user to enter a value, which is then saved to the variable specified.

The VMware guest action is useful for automating many common operations on a VMware guest operating system, such as running a program or script, managing processes, creating and managing files and directories, creating screenshots, administrating environment variables, and much more. With these activities, you can run common tasks on a network where you have multiple virtual machines running on one or more physical machines. Automate supports the full suite of virtualization software, including ESX, ESXI, Workstation, and Player.

The VMware host action is useful for automating many common performance and auditing operations on a VMware host operating system. For instance, you can create a task to automate the process of modifying a limitless number of hosts, freeing up time for more strategic activities. Automate can automatically generate lists of running hosts as frequently as required, as well as automatically register and unregister hosts based on any event defined. Other activities include the ability to start, resume, or suspend a VM, take snapshots, revert to a previous snapshot, and more.

The wait action. In programming, a wait state is a situation in which a program waits for the occurrence or completion of a specific event or condition before continuing. Because the result of a wait can largely impact task execution, many Automate activities have their own built in wait capabilities. In addition to the built in wait function, a number of individual wait activities are also available, which can be used at any point inside a task without the need to write code. These activities provide additional intelligence to Automate's already powerful task flow capabilities by allowing the execution to pause until a specific date/time until the existence or nonexistence of a file or window, wait for a process to start or end, or wait for a specific amount of time.

The web browser action can be used to automate basic to complex web-based operations by automating the desktop web browser. Using these activities, any combination of web-related actions that one normally performs manually, such as browsing, form filling, clicking and data extraction, can be simulated at run time. Many tasks such as order tracking, report generation, database retrieval, and payroll management are now web-based, which is why the web browser action is an essential tool for today's businesses.

The benefits of web services to any business can be summed up in one word, efficiency. Automate helps leverage this functionality with its web service execute function activity. This action allows you to automate the ability to execute soap-based web service calls from any task. While building a task, once you put in a WSDL and a URL path and click the go button, Automate automatically evaluates that web service and fills in the information for you to select from a dropdown. Remember, you can also use the HTTP action to interact with rest style web services as well.

The window action. Interactive tasks are defined as tasks that simulate mouse movement, mouse clicks, keyboard activity, or any type of interaction with a desktop. Performing interactive actions normally requires the use of the input and interactivity actions. However, in order for interactions to be performed accurately on a specific window, that window must usually be focused or in front of all the other open windows. The window action is used ideally in such situations. It encompasses a variety of activities used to manipulate windows on the desktop, such as moving, minimizing, maximizing, hiding, focusing, or closing a window. The window action, as well as other interactivity-related actions implements Automate's window dissection technology, which allows the specification of a window-based on title, as well as objects, controls, and/or text running inside of it. Windows dissection ensures that all interactive tasks execute with accuracy at runtime, as long as the Windows' application supports being automated.

The WMI, or Windows Management Instrumentation action, can be useful for monitoring and controlling managed resources on a local or remote computer. Thus, improving manageability of computers in a network environment. For instance, a WMI query can initially determine any system issues and then direct itself to perform proper Automate activities to correct and remediate the problem before proceeding to other steps in the process, or notifying administrators.

Automate's XML action enables automation of many common XML-related activities, such as transforming, merging, validating, and signing XML documents. They're also capable of reading, creating, editing, or deleting XML nodes, as well as extracting XML fragments which are a collection of XML nodes, and saving them to a file or other means. The XML activities provide all of the features and functionality necessary for managing and manipulating XML files.

Hopefully, this video got you thinking about how your team can use the Automate actions to quickly build processes to automate your daily work and get things done more efficiently.

 

Ready for the next chapter?

Chapter 6: Overview of Triggers