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Microsoft Touts Low-Code 'Dataflex' Platform To Boost Teams

Microsoft is talking up a "low-code data platform" called Microsoft Dataflex that promises to deliver native integration between Teams and Microsoft Power Platform tools.

The company described this latest facet of its Teams roadmap in a July 21 announcement. The Teams-Power Platform integration, enabled by Dataflex, will arrive in a preview as early as next month, Microsoft said.

Dataflex is not exactly new, but it has a new name and is now newly released to Teams. It's built on top of Microsoft's Common Data Service, which provides a means for the secure storage and management of the data that are used with Power Platform low-code tools. Those Power Platform tools include Power Apps (for building applications), Power Automate (for specifying workflows), Power BI (for charting data) and Power Virtual Agents (for creating bots).

Dataflex is now considered the data platform that's used for Teams, while "the Common Data Service has now been renamed to Microsoft Dataflex Pro," Microsoft explained in this Dataflex announcement.

Here's how Microsoft's Dataflex announcement described the Teams integration, as well as the Common Data Service product-change details:

Today, we are announcing the release of Microsoft Dataflex. Microsoft Dataflex delivers a built-in, low-code data platform for Teams, and provides relational data storage, rich data types, enterprise grade governance, and one-click solution deployment. Microsoft Dataflex enables everyone to easily build and deploy apps and intelligent chatbots in Teams with Microsoft Power Apps and Microsoft Power Virtual Agents. Microsoft Dataflex is built atop the Common Data Service, which reached general availability four years ago. Since that time, the Common Data Service added over 1,000 features and introduced support for Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Power Apps. We are pleased to announce that the Common Data Service has now been renamed to Microsoft Dataflex Pro as part of this announcement.

The idea behind the Power Platform tools is to enable office personnel without developer training to create applications and workflows as needed for various work tasks. With the Teams integration enabled by Dataflex, it now appears that Microsoft sees that sort of work getting done mostly or primarily within Teams.

Effect on SharePoint Use
A deeper view of this shift with the Common Data Service was floated by Andrew Welch, a Microsoft Most Valuable Profession focused on Business Applications, who works at Applied Information Sciences. In a blog post, Welch explained that organizations have been building their business application on SharePoint because of the prohibitive licensing costs of using Microsoft's Common Data Service.

However, apps built on SharePoint can have challenges as business needs change. The agility to adapt these SharePoint apps to new demands was lacking because "there was no data architecture continuity for apps built on SharePoint alongside more robust data services (e.g. CDS or Azure SQL) without making significant changes to the data architecture of the app itself," Welch explained.

Such a scenario now will change with Microsoft's revamping of the Dataflex and Dataflex Pro offerings, Welch suggested. He also advised organizations to "stop using SharePoint for application development" and switch to "Teams with Dataflex as your data source."

Effect on Partners
Welch's interpretation suggests major shifts ahead for organizations. It also spells major changes for the SharePoint partner community that perhaps were understated in Microsoft's announcements, which come during the week of the Microsoft Inspire event for partners.

However, Microsoft's July 21 announcement by Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, included a note that partners will be able to add support and even build applications that will work inside of Microsoft Teams.

Here's how Spataro described it:

Developers and independent software vendors will now be able to integrate their apps and services with Teams meetings, giving users more options to host collaborative and interactive meetings. Partners will be able to bring their apps directly within the Teams meeting experience.

Partners are already getting involved in that respect. Spataro added that "Polly, Open Agora, Miro, iCIMS, and HireVue will be among the first partners to deliver integrations with Teams meetings, later this year."

As for Dataflex Pro users, Microsoft's Dataflex announcement cited the case of Rockwell Automation, which is using the Power Platform and Dataflex Pro to "turn all 23,000 employees into engineers."

Dataflex Rollouts for Teams
With the coming Dataflex capabilities, Teams will have an "integrated app studio" that will let users "create and edit custom apps and flows" and publish them. It'll include custom app templates that are "native to Teams." At the back end, Dataflex will enable the management of these apps and flows. These capabilities will all start to appear in preview form sometime in August, Microsoft explained, in another announcement on the Teams low-code features.

It will be easier for employees using Teams to build bots using Power Virtual Agents for Teams, Microsoft suggested. They might build HR bots to answer questions about common payroll questions, for instance. Microsoft is promising a "no code" experience in creating these bots. Microsoft expects that a preview of Power Virtual Agents in Teams will appear sometime in either August or September (two Microsoft blog posts differed on the targeted months).

Teams will be getting an integrated Power BI reporting capability, which will include "sample reports, training information, and streamlined sharing functionality" for end users. It'll be available in the form of a new Power BI App for Teams that "will soon be available in August in the Teams app store," Microsoft indicated.

As for the Power Automate in Teams integration, Microsoft suggested in a blog post that the capabilities are already present. The blog post described new capabilities that were added via the Teams connector, such as creating Teams meetings, @mentions and new teams as part of an automated workflow. It added that it'll be possible to build Power Automate "flows" natively in Teams via Microsoft Dataflex technology, although the timing wasn't indicated.

Microsoft suggested that "select" Microsoft 365 and Office 365 subscribers would have access to these low-code capabilities, integrated with Microsoft Teams, at no added cost.

"The new Dataflex, Power Apps, Power Automate, and Power Virtual Agents functionality in Teams are coming soon for select Microsoft 365 and Office 365 users for no additional cost," Microsoft indicated in its low-code features announcement. Exact licensing details weren't described.

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