At Microsoft Inspire 2020, Microsoft announced some significant changes to the Power Platform with the introduction of Microsoft Dataflex, the rebrand of Common Data Service to Microsoft Dataflex Pro, and the ability to create apps and bots directly within Microsoft Teams.
You can see the official blog post on the Power Apps blog
I am excited about these announcements for a number of reasons. Firstly, the ability to create Teams native apps and bots is extremely useful, bringing most of the power of Power Apps into the collaboration portal where most people now spend most of their days.
Disclaimer: I am about to share my opinion on the announcement, and everything that I am writing is based on my understanding of the product. I have not yet used the new technologies in anger.
How much will Microsoft Dataflex cost?
The good thing is that Dataflex will be included within your Microsoft 365 plan, meaning that you can create relational databases for your apps without having to pay for the premium licensing to get Dataflex Pro.
How are the Microsoft Dataflex databases accessible?
Dataflex databases will effectively be created on a per team basis, making each Team it's own environment. This means that the data can be consumed by the app within that particular team, but not from another team, or another app. It also allows us to manage the permissions quite simply within that single team/environment.
How will apps within Microsoft Teams be accessed?
The key thing to understand with the Dataflex database is that it is heavily tied into the team/environment where it is created. This means that the app can be accessed and used through the Teams client, or through the Teams mobile app.
As far as I understand it, this means that it cannot be used in the standalone Power Apps player, embedded on a SharePoint site or even pushed out as an app into another team. There are then also questions about how much of the Power Apps functionality we will be able to use within this context such offline capability, camera functionality etc.
Whilst I see these as limitations, I can clearly see that there is going to be a massive benefit to having the data stored and accessed in this way, the relational tables as just one advantage. The responsive app design and the easy way for managing data is really going to give some benefits in terms of the low-code approach to app development.
Does this mean the end of SharePoint being used as a data source?
Absolutely not! Some of the limitations that I believe exist within Microsoft Dataflex will still be resolved by using SharePoint as a data source. Why? The fact that I can then leverage the data from multiple apps, within multiple platforms, and that it is included within my Microsoft 365 standard license.
The fact that Microsoft Lists is based on SharePoint lists is testament to how useful they can be, and the fact that they're going to around for a long time to come!
How is this going to change my approach?
Short answer...it's not.
From an app developer point of view, Microsoft Dataflex is going to offer another, and don't get me wrong compelling, tool to add to my collection. If I need a very simple data source that is accessible in the Power Apps app, then I'm going to look at SharePoint. If I need a simple data source for an app that is only going to be inside Teams, then I'll be looking at Microsoft Dataflex. If I have more complex data requirements including relationships, then guess what...I'll be looking at Microsoft Dataflex Pro.
All in all, a good release, and I applaud Microsoft for giving me another option to consider when I'm creating apps. I like flexibility, I like the ability to use the right tool for the job and I like being able to discuss different approaches with the people I work with.