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How Does Microsoft Dataflex Impact SharePoint and M365 Solutions?

Logan Romine Logan Romine  |  
Aug 11, 2020
 
About the Author: Logan Romine has been developing Business Applications in Microsoft Power Platform since 2018 and has led several in-person workshops on how to make the most of Power Apps and Power Automate.

On Tuesday, July 21st, 2020, Microsoft announced their release of Dataflex. If you have been leveraging SharePoint lists as a data storage repository for your Power Apps to avoid the licensing costs associated with using the Common Data Service, then Dataflex gives you a new option.
 

What is Dataflex?

Dataflex is a Microsoft data storage approach that quickly and easily enables business app developers to access a database-like structure. Users have the power to create a database-like structure without requiring the technical skills necessary to create a database.
 
Users leveraging Dataflex and Power Platform will find many predefined connectors that make app creation fast, secure, and efficient. While Microsoft provided similar functionality via the Common Data Service, Dataflex is included at no cost with Microsoft 365 accounts. There are two Dataflex levels:
 
  • Dataflex for Teams
  • Dataflex Pro
 

What’s the Hype About Dataflex?

When Microsoft first announced Dataflex, I downplayed it and thought, “Oh, it’s just another paid service to store data”. But after looking into the hype for this service, I discovered a statement by Jukka Nirranen (a Microsoft Business Applications MVP since 2013) who wrote that Dataflex for Teams is bundling into Office 365 & Microsoft 365 – which effectively makes it free.
 
My Power Platform solutioning mindset kicked in, and I started to think, “How is this going to affect building solutions in Microsoft 365 environments?”
 
After a little research, I know I’m not the only one thinking about how Microsoft Dataflex will change how we develop business processes and applications going forward.
 
Many developers (like Marc Anderson – a Microsoft MVP) are starting to wonder if SharePoint Lists are becoming obsolete for the Power Platform, or if reducing the need for SharePoint lists could be the long-term game plan. If you open Marc’s tweet below, you will see some good replies to his thoughts. They are a useful snapshot into how others in the M365 space are viewing the changes Dataflex will bring.
 
marc anderson dataflex tweet
 

Building M365 Solutions Before Dataflex

Before Dataflex, SharePoint Online lists have been the go-to data source with Power Apps and Power Automate. They are one of the few ways to avoid licensing costs for data storage. Are SharePoint lists the perfect data source? No, because SharePoint Lists lack the full power of a traditional database.
 
For example, when creating a store application, I needed to capture Orders and Order Items’ Details in a process like this:
 
  1. I had to create two separate lists to store this data and connect them with a lookup field which functioned as my foreign key.
  2. When a user placed an order, that order submission would write to the Orders list.
  3. The application then had to retrieve the created ID.
  4. Finally, the application used that ID to create rows on the Orders Item list for all items placed within that order and to ultimately tie the order with the order details.
 
The relational data capabilities within Dataflex would have reduced a lot of overhead when solutioning that process. Instead of the above approach, I will simply need to complete the following:
 
  1. Create two Entities (Tables) in Dataflex.
  2. Create a One-to-Many relationship between the Order and Order Details entities.
 

Building M365 Solutions After Dataflex

With the introduction of Microsoft’s Dataflex and the ability to use it as a free data source, my solutioning mindset changes. I now have a wider variety of tools and capabilities available to me when developing low code-no code solutions in the M365 environment.
 
Below is a list of the top 3 things Dataflex introduces to a free data source in the M365 environment:
 
  • Relational Data – Before Dataflex, you needed to create to multiple SharePoint Lookup lists or automate via Power Automate or Power Apps. After Dataflex, you will have the ability to establish relationships between entities.
  • Power Platforms Solutions – Before Dataflex, you could only package up solutions and move them to a new environment (for example, Deployment to Prod) if you had paid for Common Data Service. Now, Dataflex is making that possible.
  • Model-Driven Apps – Before Dataflex, it was only possible to build Model-Driven Power Apps if you had access to the Common Data Service. This feature is coming to Dataflex for Teams later this year.
 
dataflex microsoft 365 solution comparison chart
 

Conclusion

Am I saying you should always choose Microsoft Dataflex over a SharePoint List as your free data source?
 
No.
 
First, you need to look at the business case and determine your requirements. Second, you need to look at the growth of the business process and see if the advanced features that Dataflex offers will be needed.
 
I do think that Microsoft Dataflex for Teams will open doors to new solutions that SharePoint Lists never made possible before. Exciting new times are ahead for solutioning out Power Platform business processes inside your Microsoft 365 environment, and I’m looking forward to it.
 
 
Want to know how you can use Dataflex, Teams, and/or Microsoft 365? We have a team dedicated to helping organizations like yours make the most of Modern Workplace technologies and solutions. Contact us to learn more.
 

 

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