Create a Dataverse database in Microsoft Teams

What I want to achieve in this process is to create a single Microsoft Dataverse database inside a Microsoft Teams and allow a basic Power Automate to add data to it.

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Firstly, navigate to a Microsoft Team in the environment (here Automation), and select the + (plus) icon along the menu on the right as shown above.

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In the list of options that appears, search for, and select Power Apps as shown above.

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The first interesting thing, once you do that, is you typically can only select from pre-existing Power Apps that are listed in the dialog. However, there is an option create an app in Power Apps that you can select towards the bottom of the dialog as shown above.

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You should then see the dialog display, like the one above, telling you to wait while things get set up.

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If this process gets hung up after a minute or two, just refresh the page in your browser. You should now see something like that shown above with a list of the Microsoft Teams on the left. If you select the Microsoft Team you want to put the Dataverse database into (here Automation) you should see that nothing is built yet in the information area on the right.

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Select the New button on the right and then App from the options that appear as shown above.

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If you take a quick peek at the Power Platform admin center, in a new browser tab, and then Environments from the menu on the left or use the direct link:

https://admin.powerplatform.microsoft.com/environments

You’ll see that a new Power Platform environment has been created matching the name of the Microsoft Team (here Automation).

As the Microsoft documentation on Power Platform environments says:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-platform/admin/environments-overview

A Power Platform environment is a space to store, manage, and share your organization’s business data, apps, chatbots, and flows. It also serves as a container to separate apps that might have different roles, security requirements, or target audiences.

In essence, think of an environment as a container to store things you create in the Power Platform. When you create a Power Platform App inside a Microsoft Team, it creates them in a unique container.

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The idea is that you should be able to easily switch between environments. However, if you navigate to the Power Platform service directly at:

https://make.powerapps.com/

You are not able to see the environment just created in Microsoft Teams as shown above for some reason. It seems the only environments you can see here are those created directly in the Power Apps make portal.

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You can drill into the new Teams environment you just created in the Power Platform admin center by selecting it from the list. Information about the environment will be displayed as shown above.

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If you return to your app creation process inside the Microsoft Team, you’ll now need to give your app a name (here Capture)

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Typically, you build a full app here but for now all we want to create is a single database, so select the Data icon on the left (cylinder) as shown and then select the Create new table button to the right of it.

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You’ll then be asked to give the table a name (here Id). If you open the Advanced settings option at the bottom of the dialog, you’ll see that there are not many additional options to select from.

Select the Create button to continue.

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You should now see the table displayed as shown above. You’ll also notice that there is already a column called Name created. This is a bit like when you create a new SharePoint list and get a single column created for you as well.

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If you try and edit this initial column by selecting the header and then the Edit column option from the menu that appears above,

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you’ll find there are not a lot of options available. This maybe limiting or just annoying as it is in SharePoint, but for now just leave that column in place. You’ll just need to remember to put some data in it as it is a required field.

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You can then add any addition columns you require. Here I’ve added the columns Domain, Date and Value. These are the fields I want to populate with custom data.

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If I return to the previous screen you should now see the Dataverse database listed as shown above.

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Returning to the Build page in Power Apps in Microsoft Teams, and selecting the Microsoft Team (here Automation), you should now see some entries in the Items created for Automation list on the right. Here, you should also see the database just created as noted above.

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If you select the database directly from this screen you can drill in and see the table and any entries as shown above. No data appears in the table yet as none has been added.

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The way to get data into the database here will be via a very basic Power Automate Flow. It is a good practice to create this also inside the same Power Platform environment in which the Dataverse database was just created. Do this via the Cloud Flows option on the left as shown above.

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To create a Flow, select Cloud Flows, then from the menu at the top on the right select the + New button. From the options that appear select Cloud Flows then type of Flow desired (here an Instant Flow).

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The process for creating a Flow is the same as if you were creating a stand alone Flow via the Power Automate service. In this case, simply add the Dataverse Add a new row action as shown above. Configure this action to connect to the Dataverse database created earlier (Ids), then add some random text for the required default Name field (Hello), then data for Date, Domain and Value as shown above.

Save and Run the Flow.

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If everything is correct, the Flow should run without errors as shown above.

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If you then look at the details of the database you should see that it now has data inside it as shown above.

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You could also create a Flow directly from the Power Automate service, but remember to switch to the new Microsoft Teams environment that was created by adding a Power Automate app to the Microsoft Team before creating the Flow.

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The final interesting item here is to look at the capacity of the new database in the Power Platform admin center where you’ll find that, although you have a total size of 2GB, about 25% has already been consumed by the system.

For more information about the Dataverse for Teams consult the Microsoft documentation here:

About the Microsoft Dataverse for Teams environment

Power Virtual Agents

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Keeping with the AI theme of late:

A dedicated Microsoft Cloud Search engine

and

Need to Know Q and A Bot

I’ve also been playing around with the ability to create bots in the Power Platform. You can try out what I’ve created here:

https://bit.ly/ciapowerva

Again, remember this is a chat bot not a search engine. I have also been able to integrate this chat bot into my Microsoft Team but the process isn’t as straight forward as clicking a single link and I’ll try to cover that off in more detail in an upcoming article for you.

In many ways the Power Virtual Agent chat bot functions like the Q and A bot mentioned earlier, but it does have some major differences. Behind the scenes there is more flexibility programming than with the Q and A bot:

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I like the ability to visually create branching logic. This makes it a lot like Microsoft Power Automate to my mind. You can also create your own custom reposes as well as import from web site information, which is what I have done in my case. I also like the follow up and after event survey responses:

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Which is all built in.

However, from what I can see, it is also much more expensive – https://powervirtualagents.microsoft.com/en-us/

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Given that price plus the fact that you have to invest your own time to build something, I think this isn’t likely to be too widely adopted in the SMB space as yet. I do like the platform, compared to what I have seen so far but not sure whether it is really appropriate for a ‘casual’ play. If you are serious into automation and have lots of need for this type of thing, then it is probably going to be the platform of choice. We’ll see. I need more time will all of these tools.

I can see how all of these AI platforms utilise the same core abilities that Microsoft is building underneath. They are simply layering different interfaces over the top in essence. Some are aimed more at developers, while others are aimed at power users. I am still working out where all these fit in what I am looking to achieve and I’m sure they will all continue to improve over time. That’s kinda why I’m jumping on the AI band wagon now.

I’ll be diving deep into more of what I have found and how set all this up for yourself in upcoming articles. In the meantime I suggest you go and have a think about what you’d like to automate in your business and then look at what I’ve covered so far. It is all certainly possible, but as with anything in technology, you have to determine the best tool for your own needs.

Microsoft did a good overview video on Power Virtual Agents here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWxguR5B5-s

Answering common questions with Office 365 Part 3

This is the third article in a series of typical customers questions around Office 365. These questions were part of presentation I did with two other resellers at the Australian Microsoft Partner Conference in 2016. You’ll find the first part of the series here:

Answering common questions with Office 365 Part 1

Answering common questions with Office 365 Part 2

The question for this article is:

My team has to manage a lot of documents for a lot of clients and we have trouble working effectively with this information when you also combine it with data from email and other sources. How can Office 365 be used to allow my business to be more effective with the information we are producing?

There are so many ways that this question can be answered with Office 365. Consider the following as simply an overview of what is possible.

The most important thing to appreciate about Office 365 is that all the information you put in there is searchable. The results from any search are ‘security trimmed’. That means you only see results that you have access to view.

For most users Delve provides a single pane of glass across nearly all of your Office 365 services.

How can I find people and information in Office Delve?

I have written articles about the importance of Delve but this one probably sums up things best:

Delve should be the centre of your Office 365 universe

Delve is available across all Office 365 suites and if you haven’t as yet looked at it then start here:

Introducing Office Delve

Powered by Officegraph

What is Office Delve?

How does Office Delve know what is relevant to me?

Also importantly, you can get Delve on your mobile devices:

Introducing Office Delve Mobile Apps

as well as you Windows 10 desktop:

Delve on Windows 10 app

Most Office 365 users also get a personal location called OneDrive for Business in which they can store all their documents.

What is OneDrive for Business?

They will get around 1TB of space into which they can store and share their personal files. This means they can move information stored on their local desktop, PC, USB drives, etc into a secure location that only they have access to and that they can share from with others, inside and outside the organisation if they want. It is important to note that OneDrive for Business is not designed as a file server replacement, it is designed for personal use. SharePoint Team Sites and Office 365 Groups are more the locations for information that needs to be shared with a teams of people.

There are many other products that do personal file sharing but here’s an overview of why OneDrive for Business is a superior technology.

Why OneDrive for Business

Given that Office 365 is much more than just emails and file storage I’d recommend you review my article:

Where to put data in Office 365?

to give you a better idea of what all the options are.

Now I mentioned Office 365 Groups as another location in which you can save your information. Office 365 Groups is great if you simply need an email distribution and single place to store common files. For a better idea of what Office 365 Groups are all about have a look at:

Office 365 groups: A quick tour of new user and admin experiences

If you then needs to add tasks to your collaboration you should have a look at Office 365 Planner:

Get started quickly with Microsoft Planner

However, if your needs exceed the functionality of both Office 365 Groups and Planner then it is time to consider SharePoint Team Sites for a fully blown ‘intranet’ style experience.

What is SharePoint

Getting started with SharePoint

Remember, that everything you put into a SharePoint Team Site is searchable, including the text inside documents. Team Sites allow you to create a hierarchical structure much like a file server but add in collaboration features like calendars, wikis, lists, etc.

You can get more functionality by using ‘metadata’ to tag your information to make it easier for your users to filter and sort.

Create managed metadata column

Set up metadata navigation for a list or library

The great thing is that you can customise your metadata to exactly suit your needs.

Another service available to Enterprise Office 365 Plans is a private video portal called Office 365 Video. In here you can place and share videos with your team. This is a great place for training resources as well as recordings from Skype for Business.

Meet Office 365 video

Manage your Office 365 video portal

You can also embed these videos directly into your SharePoint Team Site quickly and easily.

Another member of the Microsoft Cloud family is CRM. This allows you to manage contacts, sales, etc. but will soon also allow you to manage your financials thanks to the recently announced Dynamics 365.

Dynamics 365

Turning business process into business advantage for organizations everywhere

The big advantage these additional Microsoft Cloud products provide is the fact that access is governed by the same login users have for Office 365. This provides greater integration and management that few other services can match.

Another location that your team can collaborate together is in Yammer. Yammer provides an enterprise social network to share information publically which has so many benefits to the business. I’ve outlined many of these here:

The Business of Yammer

Don’t forget also that many Office 365 suites provide your users with the latest Office desktop software on their PC’s, Macs and mobile devices. They get at least 5 installation on each platform to ensure that everyone has the same version of the software. As an Office 365 subscriber you receive continuing free upgrades to this software automatically so you don’t need to worry whether everyone has the ‘latest’. They will.

Finally, Office 365 is also going to provide you the ability to automate your business process and information via a number of different tools such as:

Microsoft Flow

Microsoft Powerapps

SharePoint Workflows

In summary, Office 365 gives a lot of ways to manage and work more effectively with your information. It also provides you with the opportunity to improve the way you work today, become more effective and save time. It really is a single platform dedicated to better information management, accessed via a single login that is always constantly evolving and improving. In short, Office 365 is more than email and file storage, it is a full suite of productivity services to help your business better manage your information.

Watch out for the answers to more common questions with Office 365 coming soon.

Microsoft PowerApps

One of the most powerful aspects technology now provides us is automation. The problem is that I don’t see a lot of people letting the ‘bots’ do the hard work for them.

I have written about Office 365 automation here:

Office 365 automation

I’ve also highlighted how upskilling is required to stray relevant in todays environment.

Skill up or fade away/ It’s that simple

and such re-skilling up also means a greater focus on software rather than hardware.

Personally, I’ve been playing with Azure Logic apps to provide even more automation functionality but Microsoft has now made that even easier with Powerapps.

You’ll need to request an invite from the PowerApps site:

https://powerapps.microsoft.com/en-us/

and you should do so with your Office 365 login.

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Once confirmed you’ll see a new tile appear on your Office 365 app launcher as shown above.

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Selecting this will take you to the Powerapps canvas as shown above.

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The place to start is the Connections option at the bottom of the menu on the left hand side. You should go there and connect up all the accounts you have including Office 365 Outlook, OneDrive, SharePoint Online, Twitter and more.

Once you have connected up to the different services you then need to elect whether to now create a Logic Flow or an App.

A Logic Flow is very much like an IFTTT recipe. That is, when something changes, take some action. An App is a bit more involved and typically means developing some basic screens for input and storing the data somewhere.

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The Apps you create are then access via a PowerApp application on your device (Windows 10 and iOS so far).

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Given that a Logic App is easier to create I’ll cover that. If you select the Logic App option from the menu on the left you’ll be take to a canvas on the right that allow to use an existing template or create a new Logic App from scratch.

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You start a new Logic Flow by selecting a starting action.

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In this case, I’ve chosen the trigger to be when a tweet including #office365 is found.

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I then add an action or condition.

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Here I added an action to send an email to my Office 365 inbox with the contents of the tweet.

I then save that Logic Flow.

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The Logic Flow is then active and will run every time it is triggered.

I can continue to create more Logic Flows as desired.

It is still early days for PowerApps but I am very keen to see it develop and mature. I believe it is another key opportunity provided by the cloud for IT Professionals to move beyond merely maintaining IT to actually using IT to solve real world business challenges and streamlining business processes.

My advice? Get on board with PowerApps now!