Microsoft Dataflex: What is it, what does it mean for you, and what are we doing about it?
Microsoft Inspire has always been full of grand reveals and this year is no exception. On Tuesday 21st July, Microsoft shook up its Power Platform and Microsoft Teams offerings by announcing an exciting new product: Microsoft Dataflex.
As with all announcements, this has given us a quick taste of what we can expect, but there are many questions that are still currently unanswered. In this blog we will be sharing what we know so far as well as what we don’t know yet and how this announcement will affect you.
What is it?
The official description of Microsoft Dataflex is a service that:
- Delivers a built-in, low-code data platform for Microsoft Teams
- Provides relational data storage with rich data types and enterprise grade governance with one-click solution deployment
- Enables everyone to build and deploy apps and chatbots in Teams with Power Apps and Microsoft Power Virtual Agents
What does that mean?
Admittedly, that’s a rather technical description that can take even those of us who work with this technology a little while to process, so let’s break it down.
- Firstly, Microsoft Dataflex provides organisations with a new way to store their data.
Many orgs utilising Power Platform under the Microsoft 365 seeded licences (for example, the E3 licence) will be used to using SharePoint to store their data. This has always been, and will still be, a viable data source for your Power Platform projects; but, as many of you know, SharePoint does have its limitations.
Key amongst these are problems with security, scalability, and the lack of ability to relate data into a cohesive data model – i.e. in SharePoint it is not possible to have a parent record and a child record. Previously, this was where organisations would have to make the choice whether to stick with their current licenses or make the jump to using the Common Data Service – which has now been rebranded to Microsoft Dataflex Pro. Now Microsoft Dataflex will act as a middle step to bridge the gap.
- Microsoft Dataflex is a service, not just a data source.
Just like Microsoft Dataflex Pro (formerly known as Common Data Service), Microsoft Dataflex is not just about storage. The product is designed as a collaboration and content creation platform, specifically for Microsoft Teams.
This means that Microsoft Dataflex allows users within Microsoft Teams to build, deploy, and use applications within Power Apps and chat bots within Power Virtual Agents, as well as design, populate and access data storage. So you no longer have to go between different applications to view your custom apps – you can access them all within Teams.
What we know so far about Microsoft Dataflex
What’ll it cost me?
The most exciting part of this announcement is that Microsoft Dataflex will be available to select Microsoft 365 and Teams users at no additional licensing cost.
Unfortunately there is, as of yet, no official announcement to clarify what qualifies these ‘select users’, but we can make an educated assumption that it will be users already utilising the seeded Microsoft 365 Power Platform licenses (for example, E3 licences), and already licenced for Microsoft Teams.
We expect to shortly find out costings for users who are not already covered by their existing licenses, and will share them as soon as we find out.
Currently we don’t have a concrete breakdown of what’s included in the Microsoft Dataflex offering and what is exclusive to Microsoft Dataflex Pro, but here’s what we do already know:
- Microsoft Dataflex will enable users to create, deploy and use Canvas Power Apps only – Model-Driven Apps and Power Apps Portals still require Microsoft Dataflex Pro to be created and consumed, as the Common Data Service’s offerings have not changed with the name change to Microsoft Dataflex Pro.
- Microsoft Dataflex will enable users to create, deploy and use Power Virtual Agents, which allow business users to create intelligent chat bots in an intuitive manner. Prior to this point Power Virtual Agents required premium licencing.
- A trimmed down version of the Centre of Excellence will soon be made available for Dataflex customers.
Does Microsoft Dataflex make my CDS licence redundant?
Absolutely not! It is important to note that the Common Data Service’s offerings do not change with the name change to Microsoft Dataflex Pro. While we do not, as of yet, have the full list of differences between the features offered by Dataflex vs. the features available in Dataflex Pro, here is what has already been confirmed:
- Microsoft Dataflex Pro is still needed in order to create Model-Driven Power Apps and Power Apps Portals – only Canvas are available in Microsoft Dataflex.
- Users will only be able to procure additional storage capacity for Microsoft Dataflex Pro, crucially not for Microsoft Dataflex which will come with a fixed amount of capacity.
It is also worth noting that it is currently unclear whether Microsoft Dataflex will be able to provide the same granularity of security and governance as Microsoft Dataflex Pro, and whether it will have support for solutions and custom security roles.
When will it be available?
Microsoft have confirmed that Microsoft Dataflex will be rolling out mid-August 2020. This is a very quick timeline and one that organisations will need to react to quickly, as it will be vital to put in place the correct compliance and governance plans to enable your colleagues to safely make apps.
How does this interact with Environments?
Microsoft have confirmed that Microsoft Dataflex will work on an Environment per Team basis. Access and security roles are granted automatically through Teams memberships, but are also customisable by Team Owners.
It is unclear whether Dataflex will provide support for moving solutions between Teams – or sharing to other Teams – at this time.
Will it be available on my mobile?
Yes! Everything that you’ll be able to access on your desktop app will also be available in the Microsoft Teams mobile app.
What about Power Automate?
Data stored in Microsoft Dataflex will be available to use in flows so that you can automate your Teams processes, though there is currently no indication of whether building these flows will be possible from within Teams or if it will require the Power Automate maker portal.
In addition to this, Microsoft have been ramping up the number of Teams triggers and actions available in Power Automate over the recent months, and we only expect this to increase following the Dataflex release.
Does Microsoft Dataflex have anything to do with Microsoft Lists?
In a word: No. Microsoft Dataflex is an entirely separate product to Microsoft Lists and both use different technology under the covers. The confusion is understandable since the interface for adding data into your Microsoft Dataflex storage looks very similar to the interface for creating Microsoft Lists, but there is no equivalence between the two.
What we don’t know yet about Microsoft Dataflex
Will I be able to access my apps outside of Teams?
The primary function of Microsoft Dataflex is to act as a platform for Microsoft Teams. This naturally raises the question of whether apps that are created within Microsoft Teams will be accessible outside of Teams, or whether apps created in the current web-based editor will be able to utilise Microsoft Dataflex as a data source.
While we can only speculate at the moment, it is clear that Microsoft’s vision for Dataflex is that it will enable Teams to be a ‘one-stop-shop’, so you only ever need to open the one application (Teams) to have access to everything you need in your working day. With this philosophy in mind, it is worth considering the possibility that apps created in this way may be Teams-only.
What does this mean for offline compatibility?
Earlier this year Microsoft announced offline compatibility for Microsoft Teams, which may be a positive indication that apps that have been designed to work offline might still be usable while hosted in Teams.
Will it have support for Solutions?
This has not yet been confirmed, but the current advice from Microsoft with regards to data sources is as follows:
- SharePoint and Microsoft Lists are ideal for small/tactical apps that do not require relational data
- Microsoft Dataflex is ideal for solutions or larger apps that require relational data
- Microsoft Dataflex Pro is necessary for enterprise-level and data-driven solutions
This may indicate that there will be solution support within Microsoft Dataflex.
Where does Power BI come into all this?
It’s already possible for Power BI tabs to be embedded into Microsoft Teams if you are licenced for both products. Currently there is nothing to indicate that the Microsoft Dataflex announcement will include any changes to Power BI licensing – it remains free to use your personal workspace and gated by Power BI Pro licenses to share workspaces with others.
How will Microsoft Dataflex affect me?
I’m already using Power Platform and Microsoft Teams, what do I need to do next?
If you are already using Power Platform and Microsoft Teams, the biggest effect this will have on you will be that it will open up custom app creation to more users within your organisation in a clearer, more obvious way. This means that it’s more important than ever to secure your data and implement the proper compliance & governance.
Get in touch with our Power Platform and Microsoft Teams consultants if you have any concerns on how to correctly manage your data security to prepare for the big change.
Additional information on compliance & governance within Power Platform and Microsoft Teams can be found in our webinar recordings below:
I’m using Power Platform and want to use Microsoft Dataflex, but I don’t have Microsoft Teams; what do I need to do next?
If you are already using Power Platform through a seeded Microsoft 365 license and want access to Microsoft Dataflex, you will need to procure and roll out Microsoft Teams across your tenancy.
At Silversands we have a history of quickly and successfully rolling out Teams across organisations, a process that has only been improved in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Along with our excellent User Adoption consultancy, our service can help your organisation rapidly switch to using Microsoft Teams.
Please contact us if you wish to find out more about our Microsoft Teams and User Adoption offerings.
Additionally, more information can be found in our webinar recordings:
I’m using Microsoft Teams and want to use Microsoft Dataflex, but I’ve never used the Power Platform; what do I need to do next?
If you are already using Microsoft Teams, adding Power Platform to your arsenal of tools will now be more intuitive than ever. This change will enable more business- and end-users in your organisation to take the steps to becoming app makers, and so it is the perfect time to invest in building an atmosphere that encourages the growth of these innovators.
The webinar linked below gives you some tips on how to keep your data secure, while giving your end-users the freedom to be able to digitise and automate their business processes:
We have also already released a plethora of blogs and webinars aimed at introducing users to the Power Platform and assisting them in their journey as they start to use Power Apps, Power Automate and Power BI to make apps, and some of these can be found below:
If you have solutions in mind and want assistance either upskilling people within your org or with producing a solution, our consultants are ready and willing to help you; please get in touch.
I’m not using Microsoft Teams or Power Platform and want to find out more about what these tools can provide me and my business; what do I need to do next?
If you’re unaware of the benefits of using Power Platform, check out this two part webinar series to see how the different modules of the Power Platform can be combined together to create a digital and streamlined process, replacing the time-consuming paper process currently dogging many businesses:
Similarly, to find out what kind of features are available in both Microsoft Teams and Power Platform, check out the following webinars:
Silversands is a Microsoft Gold Partner of over 30 years standing, which specialises in Microsoft 365 delivered across cloud (Azure) and hybrid IT infrastructures. We provide consultancy, support and user adoption services.
As always, please also get in touch with us to find out more about how we can use these tools to help you with your digital transformation.