If you’ve purchased the comprehensive Microsoft 365 E5 plan for your information workers, covering a wide range of the latest & greatest services from the MS cloud, you’re all good. Right? I mean, after all, it’s the flagship 365 package that carries the very name of the world’s biggest business software provider. Compared to the earlier Office 365 plans, the E5 offering ain’t exactly cheap, but you do get a lot. Windows 10 Enterprise, Azure AD Premium, Advanced Threat Protection, Cloud App Security, Power BI Pro…
Advanced apps = bigger license required
What comes as a surprise to many IT professionals is that you don’t get the full Power Platform services with M365 E5. Yes, you do get some pieces of it, but not everything needed for replacing your legacy business systems with modern apps built on the low-code application platform. Most notably, you’re not allowed to use Common Data Service nor any Premium Connectors for your Power Apps and Power Automate integration needs.
“Hold on! So, if these Power Platform services are not part of E5 then why do many of their names show up when I look at the details of my Microsoft 365 E5 subscription?”
“Also, when I go and look at the user details in Microsoft 365 Admin Center, I can clearly see several Common Data Service lines listed as coming from the Microsoft 365 license:”
Yes, you’re not seeing things, the lines do exist there. However, they are NOT the same as what you would get when purchasing actual platform licenses like Power Platform Per User. I’m sorry, but pure common sense won’t get you very far here, since we’re talking about Microsoft business applications licensing, which has been compared to explaining quantum physics…
There is logic behind it all, though. The reason for why items like CDS show up under Microsoft 365 and Office 365 subscriptions is that MS is actually using the same platform as its’ customers & partners when delivering new applications. Back in April 2020, there was an announcement in the Message Center:
This was associated with M365 roadmap item “Office 365 user view to Project and Roadmap”. In short, because the new Microsoft Project offering is leveraging several Power Platform technologies at its core, there needs to be a mechanism in place to unlock the usage of CDS for the upcoming view access to Project information. Hence the new CDS service plan added under Office 365 and Microsoft 365.
Sounds a wee bit confusing, doesn’t it? If we compare this to the Dynamics 365 products that are also leveraging the Common Data Service, then the same kind of arrangements have not been required over there, since essentially CDS was born as a Dynamics service. It’s built into it and there would not be any visible apps without it (on the CRM side), so therefore your Dynamics 365 (Enterprise) licenses already serve as the key to unlock this data platform. On the Office side, this is all brand new, so managing the subscriptions around it needs more effort. And more rows into that long list of E5 capabilities.
Why this paywall exists
In short, you can use Power Apps to extend your Office 365 / Microsoft 365 services without any additional licenses. That’s the scope of Power Platform that comes bundled with these subscriptions. When you want to build something completely custom, a new app to manage a critical business process specific to your organization, then often times the services within the Office family are not enough. Today, you don’t need to immediately jump into the world of Azure and start writing custom code to meet your needs, rather you should explore if a no-code/low-code approach built on Power Platform would give you the results faster – and often with a lower TCO, too.
It’s not free, though. The fact is that Microsoft 365 isn’t intended to meet all the software needs of your unique processes. You’re likely to have plenty of non-MS applications in use today that might be managing common processes like HR, or targeted to your specific industry, say real estate leasing, as an example. You could use the Power Platform tools to replace legacy software from these areas and consolidate your digital operations onto a modern, global cloud service using the “aPaaS” model (application platform as a service) as opposed to PaaS or IaaS.
Funnily enough, the exact same core technology (Power Apps) that you’d use for customizing a SharePoint list form is applicable to building a completely custom LoB system for your organization. The first capability comes with the Office license, the latter does not. The reason for such a divide is that in practice there’s a wealth of requirements hidden inside every complex business application (security, integration, auditing etc.) that you shouldn’t even try to tackle with SP lists – or Microsoft Lists, as they’re now called.
Drawing the line isn’t easy for even IT professionals, though. In the ever more interated suite of Microsoft cloud services, neither the UI nor the individual product names necessarily reveal what are the licensing requirements and functional limitations of for a specific scenario. The lines will become even more blurred once Microsoft Teams will begin offering a subset of Power Platform features aimed for the creation of simple apps within individual teams (a.k.a. Project Oakdale).
Unleash & govern your internal app makers
Low-code application development is increasingly becoming a mainstream activity for organizations. Microsoft has already realigned their strategy in business applications to reflect this new reality. They’ve made it possible to purchase a platform-only Power Apps licenses at $10 (per app) / $40 (per user) instead of requiring the customers to license their readymade Dynamics 365 Apps at enterprise price ranges ($95 per app).
At the moment it would seem unlikely that the full low-code platform service would be bundled into a Microsoft 365 subscription in the near future. However, we’re very likely to see these Power technologies find their ways into more and more Modern Workplace scenarios. This can happen though bundling with Teams or other new products that offer easy extension points via Power Apps, Power Automate, AI Builder and other citizen developer tools.
Many of your organization’s power users who just want to go beyond Excel sheets and lists will probably get plenty of tools in the Power Apps for Office 365 seeded plan. Through Teams they’ll soon also have access to a “starter plan” for a true relational database like CDS. However, once you need to implement bigger applications for organization wide processes with centralized monitoring, integrations to external systems, governance planning – then it’s time to step beyond what the Microsoft 365 subscription offers.