This year, we’ve seen many exciting Microsoft announcements; new products, new releases, such as SharePoint 2016 and even new rebrands, such as Dynamics 365. During these announcements, there have been references to three new Microsoft terms; Microsoft Flow, PowerApps and the Common Data Model. With these products expected to play an integral role in Microsoft’s services we want to explain what they are, what they do and how they fit together as a trio and as part of the larger Microsoft picture.
In a nutshell, PowerApps and Microsoft Flow are tools that give end users (or ‘power users’) the ability to create apps and workflows without needing to understand code. This is possible because of the underlying Common Data Model that unifies and manages the data entities from Office 365 and Dynamics 365, or the use of connectors and gateways to third party solutions.
PowerApps is a new ‘rapid application development’ service from Microsoft. PowerApps allows users to quickly and easily build web and mobile apps without writing any code by simply using drag and drop functionality to build apps. This allows users to surface any information from Dynamics 365, Office 365 or third party services into a visually appealing and mobile-friendly app.
Just to make sure there is no confusion PowerApps shouldn’t be confused with AppSource. AppSource is the new marketplace where users and businesses can try and buy pre-built apps and third party extensions from Microsoft and partners.
Microsoft describes Flow as a ‘sister service’ to Power Apps; instead of focusing on building apps, Flow is all about building processes. Again, it’s designed for end users in mind, giving them the ability to create their own workflows without relying on developers.
Flow is currently in Preview and free to try, so the best way to understand what Flow is and how to use it is to give it a try yourself by signing up here: https://flow.microsoft.com/
If you would like to create your first automated workflow with Microsoft Flow then you can follow our step by step guide "Getting started with Microsoft Flow" here.
Flow connects your cloud services together allowing you to create workflows from pre-configured templates or from scratch. The templates are the easiest way to get started and cover a wide variety of cloud services. Of course, Dynamics 365 and Office 365 are the key services that Flow and PowerApps are aimed it but you can also extend them to third party services so that you can draw on a wide varierty of other cloud services, for example:
YouTube, Twitter, Slack, Facebook, Dropbox, Box, Instagram, Wunderlist, Salesforce, GoogleDrive.
The Common Data Model is a secure business database for storing and managing business entities that underlies PowerApps and Flow. The CDM pulls together Dynamics 365 and Office 365, which unifies the two systems; one for business productivity (Office 365) and the other for business applications (Dynamics 365), to ‘match’ standard entities across the two, such as Contact and Lead.
As you can see in this image, these pieces all draw upon the Common Data Model and if they to draw upon other third party data sources, then connectors and gateways are used. Power BI, PowerApps and Microsoft Flow are the tools for ‘power users’ (I would be tempted to argue end users) and then underneath these are the tools available for the IT Pros.
It’s great to see Microsoft tying their services together for a more unified experience but it’s also impressive to see them allowing simple connectors to other third party cloud services. Microsoft understand that while users love to use the Microsoft stack they also want to be able to use other services and the integration capabilities of Microsoft’s solutions to competitor services show this.
I truly believe that Microsoft are fulfilling their mission statement to “empower every person and organisation to achieve more” by providing flexibility and tools to allow people and organisations to use the software and applications that suit them most. Even better, they are not only focusing on giving organisations and IT pros the tools they need but also focusing on end users with the releases of products like Flow and PowerApps, which gives end users the power to exploit their technology without needing to become a developer.
As PowerApps and Microsoft Flow are only in Preview there could still be quite a few changes coming to these before general release. Unfortunately, we do not know an expected date for general availability and no pricing or licensing information is known yet but they will likely follow a similar pattern to Power BI with a free and paid plan.
We expect the free plan to limit the number of data sources or flows. We also believe these may be included in certain Dynamics 365 licenses, especially with Microsoft Flow and PowerApps featuring so heavily in Dynamics 365 but until we hear from Microsoft it is not worth guessing.
At this stage, we would recommend signing up for the free trials and having a go yourself!