Today, to coincide Microsoft Inspire 2020 a fundamental development of the “Common Data Service” was announced. Firstly the Common Data Service is being renamed as Dataflex Pro, and and a NEW product has been created called Dataflex.
So what is Dataflex?
You would be forgiven for thinking that this is just a ploy to address some of the confusion that has surrounded the original naming of the Common Data Service, but in this case there is quite a lot more to it than meets the eye.
Firstly, the Common Data Service is coming to Teams. Under the hood this means each Team has the right to 1 Dataflex Environment. An environment is essentially a container for both Data, Data Model, Apps and Power Automate Flows.
The integration within Teams is fundamental as you can author your apps within Teams, and deploy them directly to your team without leaving the teams experience. On one level this might seem trivial, however it does create a very streamlined process for creating productivity tools.
Why is this important?
Because up until now the only “free” data source for Teams members has been Sharepoint, which for all that it has been successful, is based on some quite old technology, born on-premise nearly 20 years ago.
When building apps we feel sharepoint pain in the following ways:-
- Our ability to filter large datasets is limited
- Sharepoint is not a relational database, which can be problematic when linked to the above
- There are only a limited number of field types available to us
- The security model can be cumbersome, and frankly unable to provide the necessary permissions
- Sharepoint does not include simple Development, Test and Production scenarios.
- The “grow up” story to move an application from Sharepoint onto other data platforms is problematic
- Sharepoint does not contain the same trigger types for Power Automate as does Dataflex
How do I create an App?
Well – whilst Dataflex is in private preview the best I can offer at this stage is a look at the Dataflex Pro experience (I’ll be calling it the Common Data Service). Dataflex is a much more sanitised and cleaner version of what I’m demonstrating below.
For a much more trivial app, you can take a look here – in this app we don’t use any data at all.
Do I get anything else?
Actually yes. Surprisingly you have access to Bots, essentially virtual agents that you program in a low-code way that enable people IN YOUR TEAM ONLY (in this case) to get answers to the questions that they have.
We are also expecting to get Power BI integration in due course.
Is there a catch?
I’m afraid so, you’re limited to 1m rows of data and 2 GB of storage.
To get this into perspective, the entire works of Shakespeare fit onto an app that weighs only 10mb, the size of a medium to large photo. So for many teams they will never feel any ill effects from these limitations.
Additionally, the teams environment is limited to Teams members. By all accounts guest access does exist, but we need to learn more about this.
You get 1 environment per team, so no scope for Dev, Test and Prod.
You may not get ALL data types, but this remains to be seen.
Why bother upgrading to Dataflex Pro
The easiest way of explaining this is that Dataflex pro is just a renamed version of the Common Data Service, which is in turn Dynamics Customer Engagement, which has been around for many years and is used by organisation such as Coca Cola. What this means is you get a tried and tested ENTERPRISE GRADE platform with all the complex security measures, multiple clients, full Application Management Lifecycle, all data types, virtual entities, business rules and business logic and full integration with the Azure stack.
You should also bear in mind that you can upgrade directly from Dataflex to Dataflex pro.
In many respects the aim of the product is to enable the data platforms available to Teams grow up significantly. Sharepoint lists have been for many years data repositories for organisations, in spite of all their limitations, however Sharepoint was never made to have been extended to the extent that has been the case.
It’s worth noting that there are some instances where DataFlex pro licensing is seeded to users by virtue of some arrangements such as Dynamics 365, so this feature is worth bearing in mind.
So how does old Common Data Service fit into all of this?
The Common Data Service lives on, and is subject to a name change and the licensing has not been altered, so keep doing what you are doing in that space.
I’ve heard about Microsoft Lists – what’s all that about?
Essentially Microsoft Lists are Sharepoint Lists repackaged with quite a nice front end with Microsoft App on Mobile and tablet that sits in alongside Excel and friends. Ultimately, they will always be Sharepoint lists for good or ill, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be effective with them. You can find out more below:-
Where can I find out more?
Sign up for the blog here – I’ll be keeping on top of this.
Good Luck – and keep Power Apping.