Insights

Microsoft Data Flex for Teams: Expanding Productivity

04 Aug 2020, MOQdigital

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A quick recap… 

In my recent review of the Microsoft Build event back in June I noted that. “Teams looks to become the next platform to target for enterprise businesses by making it a lot easier for professional developers to build out native Teams interfaces”.

 We called it Teams-as-a-Platform. Microsoft has taken this a step further, massively expanding Teams Support for the Low-Code Power Platform with Data Flex for Teams being announced at the partner Inspire event.  

 

In recent times vendors (including Microsoft) have moved towards integrated app delivery mechanisms for enterprises. Using existing eco-systems around collaboration platforms as the basis. In our internal briefing I showed our sales team a slide that looked like this: 

 blogspiers

What I was aiming to achieve is to illustrate how fundamental the current shift across many technology vendors towards integrated app delivery mechanisms has become. Teams is the platform for Microsoft and is set to become our modern workplace App experience. This is now coming to fruition with Data Flex For Teams. 

Microsoft Data Flex for Teams provides a relational data store inside of Teams for App developers. It is built on the backbone of Microsoft Common Data Service (now called Data Flex Pro), which was originally derived from the Dynamics CRM stable. For any Dynamics Developer (now Model Power Apps developers) it will look all to familiar.  

 

Why is this important?  Why all the fuss?  

Until now, the de facto licencing of PowerApps and Power Automate in the M365 platform has not provided us access to connectors for any real relational database. You can step up your licencing to per user OR per app at a cost of course, which gives you access to premium connectors (for example to Azure SQL or even to APIs), but that cost in many cases was prohibitive.  

Without these additional licencing constructs, Canvas Apps that need data were typically built using SharePoint lists as the primary data source which for complex apps, became very cumbersome. Sure, we can chain a bunch of lists together but ultimately, we have an unruly, difficult to deploy and manage solution. It goes further, many of us in the Microsoft partner community, predict that many solutions in 2021 typically destined for SharePoint, will now rather be built directly in the new Teams Experience by makers and developers. 

There is a Teams App Studio – where makers and developers can build their solutions directly within Teams, creating and publishing apps and flows driven by Data Flex for Teams. 

The licencing, according to Microsoft is built-in: 

“Microsoft Dataflex for Teams is available as part of your Teams license, supports up to 1,000,000 rows and delivers a robust set of capabilities for rapidly building no code and low code applications within Teams.”   

Data Flex for Teams is a fantastic fit for large productivity Apps. There are some limits to be aware of that would prompt an uplift to Data Flex Pro, essentially: 

  • It is limited to 2gb data storage per Team.  It is unclear yet if additional storage can be purchased as with Data Flex Pro (CDS) or an uplift to Data Flex Pro will be required. 
  • As Dataflex for Teams creates a single environment for each Microsoft Team. It remains to be seen what/if any “cross team” app experiences may be.  
  • The security model is based on the Teams model, meaning Owners, Members, and Guests roles will exist, whereas finer grained control is available only in Data Flex Pro (CDS). 

 

However, the more we look at it, the more we realise fundamentally the way we choose to build out productivity solutions continues to gravitate and centre inside of Teams. With new meetings extensibility points now also in-play, developers can build out apps that live inside and interact within meetings. The mind boggles at the new capabilities and solutions we can offer our customers. We look forward to the role out into customer O365 Tenants during August and beyond. 

 

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