If you’re serious about leveraging Power Platform low-code tools in your organization, then you definitely should be using the Power Platform Center of Excellence Starter Kit (CoE) from Microsoft. This is the best way to get an understanding of what happens in all the environments across your tenant – ranging from small experiments by citizen developers to enterprise wide systems running on Dataverse, like Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement apps.
The latest CoE update is a big milestone, since it enables the installation of these tools into any Dataverse for Teams environment (DV4T). Why is this a big deal? Because it removes a few licensing blockers that might have previously stopped organizations from deploying the CoE or making the most of its capabilities.
The first upside is you no longer need to consume Dataverse storage capacity for the CoE deployment. That isn’t actually such a big of a deal, since the CoE Starter Kit data usually doesn’t really take much storage space at all (unless you’ve got a huge enterprise tenant). A nice bonus from this is that you can now deploy CoE in a demo / trial environment with no paid capacity available.
You still need some actual Power Platform licenses to run CoE, though. Remember: Microsoft 365 does not contain Power Platform licenses – not even at E5 level. From the CoE setup prerequisites, we can find the following statement about Power Automate licenses:
If you are using the CoE Starter Kit in a Dataverse for Teams environment, a Power Automate per user license will be required for the admin running the sync flows. No additional licenses will be required for users interacting with any of the canvas apps.CoE setup prerequisites
Now, the really big thing is that by using Dataverse for Teams as opposed to the full Microsoft Dataverse, every user with a Microsoft Teams license is allowed to interact with the CoE data and processes. This means that you can actually invite all citizen developers in your organization to participate in the governance practices and automations directly – regardless of whether they already have a premium Power Apps license assigned to them.
If you only perceive Power Platform governance to be about restrictions and enforcement of policies by IT admins, then the differences between the old & the new model aren’t that big. If, on the other hand, you believe in the power that low-code has to democratize technology and make it accessible to every developer, be it a pro or a citizen one, then this Teams based deployment option is something you’ll definitely want to explore.
Let’s try things out in a new DV4T environment, to see how the deployment process differs from the traditional set up of CoE core components. There’s a different solution package aimed at the Teams deployment option. We’ll need to have an environment provisioned in our chosen team before the installation, so just create one dummy app if you’re using a new team for CoE purposes.
The import (and export) options within the Power Apps app in Microsoft Teams have only recently been enabled. Importing the managed solution zip file into DV4T gives you a bit different experience than what we’ve been accustomed to in the Dataverse side, by listing all the items that are part of the import:
Next we need to create a bunch of connections before proceeding further with the installation, to allow CoE to perform the necessary data retrieval through a wealth of APIs. This process will give you ~10 new browser tabs that show the traditional non-Teams version of the Maker Portal. A bit of a click show – but luckily there’s one upside to it.
While you can’t open the DV4T environment directly in the Power Apps Maker Portal (as of now), you can hack the URL to get access to this full maker UI. So, as you’re adding all the required connections, grab the environment GUID from the address bar in one of the aforementioned tabs. Use that GUID to replace the zeros in the following URL:
Now you have a proper Power Apps browser tab that’s independent from Teams yet lets you browse through the environment’s components. For instance, we can go and check the solution history view, to verify that the Center of Excellence Core Components solution imported successfully in 3 minutes 10 seconds:
Hmm, but why can’t I see anything yet on the Power Apps Teams UI? Even if I click “See all” then I only see that one dummy app I added earlier, to get the DV4T environment provisioned.
The secret is in you choice of tabs within the Power Apps app. Specifically, instead of the “built by this team” tab you need to have a look at the “installed apps” tab. Ah! So, it looks like the managed solutions that you import into a DV4T environment are actually treated like Teams apps here – rather than just a list of components like we know them from the XRM era.
In fact, while we can import solutions into DV4T, the whole concept of a solution package isn’t actually visible when viewing the world from a Microsoft Teams perspective. Also during the import process, we’re importing “a managed application” rather than a managed solution. Make of that what you will.
By using the full Power Apps Maker portal we have access to not just individual solutions in the DV4T environment but all the components when accessing them via the Default Solution. For example, managing things like Environment Variables can easily be achieved here:
Let’s get everything configured and move into the CoE core components deployment step that’s common to all environments: sync template flows activation. This will populate the tables in our CoE Dataverse environment with information about environments (how recursive…), apps, flows, makers and so on:
Once the data is in, we can admire it via the Power Platform Admin View app. Oh, but wasn’t that a Model-driven app? And Dataverse for Teams doesn’t currently have support for those, right?
Luckily there’s a new Canvas version of the Admin View available instead. Compared to the full Model-driven version, it’s… Well, how should I say this? “You get what you pay for.” Still, it gives a UI for browsing and editing the contents of your CoE environment’s tables. For those admins with little or no exposure to all goodies that the Model-driven apps and Dynamics 365 products offer, this may be perfectly sufficient for basic data management needs.
How about the Power BI dashboard then? That has always been a nice tool in the CoE Starter Kit to demonstrate the wealth of different elements and data points of the platform. The good news is, the same version that’s used for the full Dataverse based CoE deployments is applicable also to CoE in Dataverse for Teams. The one trick you need to know, though, is how to find the Org URL for DV4T:
Paste the instance URL without “https://” and trailing “/” into the parameter field when configuring the Power BI dashboard for CoE. Import the .pbix into a new workspace, create a Power BI app from it and publish it to the end users. After pinning it into a Teams channel tab, we now have a lot more visual method for exploring the apps, flows and other elements in our tenant’s Power Platform environments:
There’s of course plenty of other useful apps in the CoE Starter Kit, both in the Core Components solution and further packages. In fact, when you look at the comparison table of what’s supported in Microsoft Dataverse vs. Dataverse for Teams, the differences boil down to the lack of a Model-driven admin app.
Despite of some of the new hoops you need to jump through to work with the simplified maker UI within Teams, the installation process of the Center of Excellence Starter Kit works pretty well in this deployment option, too. I’m actually surprised how well the CoE team has managed to “retrofit” the earlier solutions to work within the limits of DV4T.
This highlights an important question which I’m sure many people in the Power Platform community have been wondering about: how far will Dataverse for Teams actually go? Sure, if we analyze the detailed feature comparison between Dataverse editions, it’s easy to identify limitations in existing business applications that wouldn’t really fit within the Teams edition. At least yet.
While I don’t believe we’ll see the full feature set of Microsoft Dataverse unlocked for usage with Teams licenses alone, I also don’t think it’s going to be severely handicapped – intentionally at least. There’s a lot for MS to gain in pursuing the Teams as a platform story when competing against tools like Zoom or platforms like Salesforce + Slack. By attracting as many app makers and users onto the platform and then upselling them on premium Power Apps & Power Automate licenses when things like 3rd party connectivity or enterprise data platform features are needed, the revenue stream can be pretty darn nice still.
One final thing to keep in mind about CoE is that it’s actually a great showcase in itself of what Microsoft’s low-code tools can do. It’s built with the very same Power Platform tools that it is used for managing. All the APIs, automations, reports and apps use publicly available technology that the customers also could apply for their own scenarios. Put into a different business context, these are the kinds of big systems that could evolve on top of the platform over time, to guide pretty much any digital process.