Teams as a Platform (TaaP), Part 1

One of the big announcements out of Microsoft’s Build 2020 conference this year was Teams as a Platform (TaaP). You may be asking yourself what this means. We all know that Teams has changed the way we work since its inception and especially since COVID-19, but most customers have merely scratched the surface of what Teams can do- especially with the announcements made at Build and Inspire in the last few weeks. One of the biggest announcements was Dataflex  (as it seems now, the product formerly known as Dataflex). You may also see it named “Project Oakdale” until Microsoft chooses a new name in the coming weeks.

Dataflex is a rebranding and new offering for Power Platform and Teams users to develop use cases in and out of the Teams platform. The Power Platform is Microsoft’s business application platform that enables customers to build no code/low-code bots, analyze data, automate processes, and more. It’s geared towards customers who may not have the time or developer know-how needed to perform these functions from scratch. Now with Dataflex, you get the addition of the Microsoft Common Data service (CDS) which provides a means for the secure storage and management of data that is used within the Power Platform or your Microsoft Team. Microsoft also introduced Dataflex Pro for users who want additional security and development tools to be used outside of Teams. For a closer look at Dataflex see this link.

While Dataflex sounds like PowerApps, it includes much more, like the ability to access your own relational database and development environment in your own Team. In the past you had to use Dynamics 365 or pay for PowerApps licenses to build Model Driven Apps that had access to your data. With the announcement of Dataflex, the environment and relational database will now be included in the licensing for Teams.

What does Teams as a Platform (TaaP) and Dataflex look like?

What if you could take most of your daily business processes and incorporate them right into Teams? That’s what Teams as a platform is all about. Microsoft Teams users will find themselves leaving Teams less and less each day, thus minimizing any disruption to their workflow. For remote workers, Teams has built in capabilities right out of the box to support your use cases without having to write new code. The Teams Platform was designed to integrate your daily process and create focused Teams and use cases all in one tool, negating the need to ever leave it. Teams easily integrates with all of the O365 Services, 3rd Party Apps, App Templates, and the Power Platform which includes PowerBI, Power Apps, Power Automate, Power Virtual Agents, AI Builder and now Dataflex. In connecting the Power Platform with Teams, you now have the ability to create your own Apps, use existing 3rd party apps, use app templates, out of the box team templates, utilize artificial intelligence (AI), and the integration of Power Virtual Agents (BOTS) in your Teams channels.

Ready to get Started?

Microsoft has given you a head start by building production ready App Templates. Consider this example: using a prebuilt App like the Request a Team App, you can ensure your organization is adhering to a consistent and secure Team setup process by using a template. The app supports standardization and best practices when creating new team sites through the integration of a wizard-guided request form, an embedded approval process, a request status dashboard, and automated team builds.

Development can be done by experienced developers or your average users which Microsoft calls “citizen developers.” Citizen development should be encouraged in order to help with individual productivity. With proper guard rails for governance, security and data, your citizen developers have a safe environment for them to develop and automate everyday tasks, thus saving themselves time. For the seasoned developer, policies and governance will be key to this new development platform for production ready apps. There is no reason to treat Teams as a Platform differently than any other development platform. Change management and other customer internal policies should be followed when building customer facing production solutions.

How TaaP is being used?

TaaP use cases include COVID-19 solutions to meet your daily needs like using the Power Platform with mobile access to track resources, beds, ventilators, masks, etc. for employees or using Shifts to figure out who will be in the office on a given day. Many States are also using TaaP to solve their own use cases. One State is using TaaP to automate their way of keeping track of subway cleaning logs. The NC State Bureau of Investigation is using TaaP to take X-Rays of suspected bombs and upload them quickly into Teams for remote expert analysis. Additionally, the NC SBI is using Teams to cut down on the collaboration time for missing person cases. For a review of all of NC SBI’s Teams uses cases see their success story.

Are you starting to think of your own use cases yet? The use cases are endless when you add all of these capabilities together with artificial intelligence.

Summary and what’s next

It is very apparent that Microsoft is betting a lot to make Teams a production ready development platform. In fact, one MS MVP advised organizations to “stop using SharePoint for application development” and switch to “Teams with Dataflex as your data source.” While that is a strong statement, it will take time for the Dataflex capabilities to hit general availability. From these announcements, it seems clear that the future of developing use cases that involve collaboration will be in Teams.

In our next blog, I will explore some of the roadblocks to adopting TaaP and ways to solve these problems. Stay tuned!

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