On Tuesday, July 21st, 2020, Microsoft announced their release of Dataflex (now named Project Oakdale). If you have been leveraging SharePoint lists as a data storage repository for your Power Apps to avoid the licensing costs associated with using the Common Data Service, then Project Oakdale gives you a new option.
What is Project Oakdale?
Project Oakdale is a Microsoft data storage approach that quickly and easily enables business app developers to access a database-like structure. Users have the power to create a database-like structure without requiring the technical skills necessary to create a database.
Users leveraging Project Oakdale and Power Platform will find many predefined connectors that make app creation fast, secure, and efficient. While Microsoft provided similar functionality via the Common Data Service, Project Oakdale is included at no cost with Microsoft 365 accounts. There are two Project Oakdale levels:
- Project Oakdale for Teams
- Common Data Service
What’s the Hype About Project Oakdale?
When Microsoft first announced Project Oakdale, I downplayed it and thought, “Oh, it’s just another paid service to store data”. But after looking into the hype for this service, I discovered a statement by Jukka Nirranen (a Microsoft Business Applications MVP since 2013) who wrote that Project Oakdale for Teams is bundling into Office 365 & Microsoft 365 – which effectively makes it free.
My Power Platform solutioning mindset kicked in, and I started to think, “How is this going to affect building solutions in Microsoft 365 environments?”
After a little research, I know I’m not the only one thinking about how Microsoft Project Oakdale will change how we develop business processes and applications going forward.
Many developers (like Marc Anderson – a Microsoft MVP) are starting to wonder if SharePoint Lists are becoming obsolete for the Power Platform, or if reducing the need for SharePoint lists could be the long-term game plan. If you open Marc’s tweet below, you will see some good replies to his thoughts. They are a useful snapshot into how others in the M365 space are viewing the changes Project Oakdale will bring.
Building M365 Solutions Before Project Oakdale
Before Project Oakdale, SharePoint Online lists have been the go-to data source with Power Apps and Power Automate. They are one of the few ways to avoid licensing costs for data storage. Are SharePoint lists the perfect data source? No, because SharePoint Lists lack the full power of a traditional database.
For example, when creating a store application, I needed to capture Orders and Order Items’ Details in a process like this:
- I had to create two separate lists to store this data and connect them with a lookup field which functioned as my foreign key.
- When a user placed an order, that order submission would write to the Orders list.
- The application then had to retrieve the created ID.
- Finally, the application used that ID to create rows on the Orders Item list for all items placed within that order and to ultimately tie the order with the order details.
The relational data capabilities within Project Oakdale would have reduced a lot of overhead when solutioning that process. Instead of the above approach, I will simply need to complete the following:
- Create two Entities (Tables) in Project Oakdale
- Create a One-to-Many relationship between the Order and Order Details entities.
Building M365 Solutions After Project Oakdale
With the introduction of Microsoft’s Project Oakdale and the ability to use it as a free data source, my solutioning mindset changes. I now have a wider variety of tools and capabilities available to me when developing low code-no code solutions in the M365 environment.
Below is a list of the top 3 things Project Oakdale introduces to a free data source in the M365 environment:
- Relational Data – Before Project Oakdale, you needed to create to multiple SharePoint Lookup lists or automate via Power Automate or Power Apps. After Project Oakdale, you will have the ability to establish relationships between entities.
- Power Platforms Solutions – Before Project Oakdale, you could only package up solutions and move them to a new environment (for example, Deployment to Prod) if you had paid for Common Data Service. Now, Project Oakdale is making that possible.
- Model-Driven Apps – Before Project Oakdale, it was only possible to build Model-Driven Power Apps if you had access to the Common Data Service. This feature is coming to Project Oakdale for Teams later this year.
Am I saying you should always choose Microsoft Project Oakdale over a SharePoint List as your free data source?
First, you need to look at the business case and determine your requirements. Second, you need to look at the growth of the business process and see if the advanced features that Project Oakdale offers will be needed.
I do think that Microsoft Project Oakdale for Teams will open doors to new solutions that SharePoint Lists never made possible before. Exciting new times are ahead for solutioning out Power Platform business processes inside your Microsoft 365 environment, and I’m looking forward to it.
Want to know how you can use Project Oakdale, Teams, and/or Microsoft 365? Learn more about our Modern Workplace capabilities.