There are many ways to get started with PowerApps on the cheap. What I mean by cheap here is the types of licenses that have certain limitations on what you’re allowed to do with the PowerApps platform and apps, in exchange for their lower cost. In other words, “less than PowerApps P2 capabilities.” In this article I’ll try to illustrate what these limitations are, especially when working with data in the Common Data Service (CDS).
As was announced already one year ago, PowerApps Plan 2 at $40/user/month is the official platform SKU that allows you to build and run highly complex custom applications, on top of the same platform that also powers Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (CE) applications. If you have a license for any CE Enterprise App or Plan, you’ve also got the full power of PowerApps P2 at your disposal. As long as you can afford to fork out at least $95/user/month, then you’ll get both the first party Dynamics 365 App plus the unlimited platform usage, which of course is the best scenario in terms of how to digitally transform your business processes with the help of MS Cloud.
When building custom PowerApps, often times the audience that would need to have access to these apps is much larger than your team of sales people who would use the CRM application manage customer interactions and sales pipeline, for example. The apps may be replacements of legacy Excel sheets or even paper forms, which are not all that complex when compared to full Enterprise Sales applications, and they might not even be used that often per single user. However, you may still need to enable each and every employee in the organization to use the application to complete the task it’s designed to manage.
For these kind of scenarios the licenses should preferably fall more into the Office 365 (or Microsoft 365) territory, so that they can be standardized as the tools that all information workers in the company have at their disposal. Luckily there is a plan called “PowerApps for Office 365” that already provides the basic capabilities for app building and usage bundled into the license that almost everyone has these days. The limitations are that it’s really meant only for working within the Office 365 stack of services. The next level up from there, PowerApps Plan 1, is also priced at $7/user/month which is only a fraction of the price of Enterprise Sales App, for example. Here you get access to CDS and various types of connectors to other systems where your business data may reside.
Up until this point, the PowerApps plans and capabilities line up nicely into a stacked Venn diagram with these layers:
Where it starts to get more complex is the Dynamics 365 CE licenses that are below the Enterprise Apps and Plans. These do NOT include the PowerApps P2 capabilities but a different plan called “PowerApps for Dynamics 365 Applications”. In the CE product portfolio, this plan is included with the following licenses:
- Dynamics 365 for Team Members ($8)
- Dynamics 365 for Customer Service Professional ($50)
- Dynamics 365 for Sales Professional ($65)
You should look into the PowerApps & Flow Licensing Guide to get the full details about what the limitations for different plans are. Now, since these type of long documents aren’t great at highlighting what the “gotchas” in the licensing model are, here’s my attempt at drawing a picture around these lower end PowerApps plans and key capabilities. Please note that I’m only covering the Team Member license here when referencing the “PowerApps for Dynamics 365 Applications” plan, as it’s more in line with the price range of the aforementioned “starter” plans.
Let’s start from the left, meaning the one capability that is included even in the “PowerApps for Office 365” plan: run standalone Canvas apps. For some peculiar reason, this is not allowed for users with the “PowerApps for Dynamics 365 Applications” plan. The only thing that they can do is “run extended first-party Dynamics 365 (Model-driven) apps within the context of the application use rights”. So, an embedded Canvas app on the account entity form is allowed, but launching any app directly from either web.powerapps.com or the PowerApps mobile app is forbidden.
This leads to an interesting scenario, because essentially the “PowerApps for Dynamics 365 Applications” plan doesn’t give the users the right to run any type of app that says “PowerApps” in the header bar. Only the applications with “Dynamics 365” branding are within the boundaries of this plan, which makes you wonder why it even need to be a plan in the PowerApps licensing model when the Dynamics 365 licensing should in theory cover it.
When you acquire the “PowerApps for Dynamics 365 Applications” plan via a Team Member license, the limitations from the Dynamics 365 side of course do also apply still. One of the major handicaps introduced in the new licensing terms for Team Members last Fall was the removal of rights to create, edit and delete account records. Now, while the $8 Team Member license doesn’t allow you to perform these actions, the $7 PowerApps P1 license actually does! Of course we’re talking about the Canvas app side of the PowerApps world here, so using the standard Dynamics 365 Model-driven UI’s like Sales Hub isn’t allowed. However, building a simple Account Editor app should technically be well within P1 rights.
The one capability that “PowerApps for Dynamics 365 Applications” has over P1 is the usage of restricted and complex entities in CDS. Restricted entities like cases, goals and entitlements are not to be touched from the PowerApps side as these belong to Dynamics 365 apps only, based on Microsoft’s statement. Complex entities are anything that has either plugins or real-time workflows attached to it (supposedly only custom ones, as MS built plugins & workflows should be whitelisted, even though the documentation currently doesn’t state this). So, complex business logic that runs on the server side as part of the platform transactions is only allowed for PowerApps P2 plan users at $40, or with any Dynamics 365 license starting from $7.
Being pure platform licenses, the PowerApps Plan 1 and Plan 2 allow the usage of an unlimited number of custom entities in CDS. Both the Team Member as well as the Professional licenses for Dynamics 365 carry a 15 custom entity restriction (per app), so obviously the extensibility of the data model is far better with the $7 P1 license than with a $65 Sales Professional license. This is one of the key reasons why I tend to say that nobody should buy the Dynamics 365 Professional licenses. In the age of Power Platform you’d be foolish to only buy the single Dynamics 365 app and lock yourself out of the use cases for digitally transforming the unique processes that you company has. You know, the ones where there isn’t yet “an app for that” but where it can be very easily built with the no-code/low-code tools like PowerApps and Microsoft Flow.
With these different types of PowerApps plans and their restrictions, you’ll quickly start to wonder if these can be mixed and matched. For example, does the exclusion of standalone Canvas apps actually have any real life implications if your users happen to be one of the 180 million Office 365 users that have this capability via their license? Or what about that account editing limitation in Team Member licenses – could you give them a $7 PowerApps P1 license and then add an embedded Canvas app on the Model-driven account entity form to overcome the limits? Are real-time workflows and plugins OK if you’ve got Team Member & PowerApps P1 and you’re working with a Canvas app that touches entities that TM users have the right to edit? Unfortunately Microsoft doesn’t take their public licensing guidance down to this level of detail to illustrate examples of real-life use cases.
What makes these licensing questions so difficult to answer is that unlike with a technical question, you can’t just test it with the applications and see if it works or not. Much of the licensing in the Microsoft Business Applications space remains paper based, which means that detailed technical enforcement for the licensing terms may not exist – at least today. The direction undoubtedly is more towards a true cloud service that only exposes the features to the user that he or she is licensed for. Considering the complexity and vagueness of Dynamics 365 and Power Platform licensing model as it is today, there may well need to be an “AI for Licensing” type of an intelligent system with machine learning models built to help MS reach this goal. ?
If you’re a fan of software licensing mysteries or simply need to understand the details of PowerApps and Dynamics 365 licensing model as a part of your day job, then be sure to check out my earlier writings on the topic:
- Demystifying Dynamics 365 & Power Platform Licensing: Part 1, Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement
- Demystifying Dynamics 365 & Power Platform Licensing: Part 2, PowerApps and Flow