Introduction to Common Data Model

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Introduction to Common Data Model

Related to the new Dynamics 365 platform Microsoft is launching, Microsoft is also releasing a new way to look at your business data, called the Common Data Model.  At its simplest form, the Common Data Model is a way for all of your business apps to be able to speak the same language about the information you care about.  So if you’re working a Lead in your CRM app, your marketing app will agree with what a Lead means and speak natively to it.  Historically, this hasn’t actually been an easy thing to do.  If you’ve ever deployed integrated line-of-business software, you know that the integration of the systems frequently is the hardest part to do right.  The Common Data Model is a first step down the path of making those integrations a lot faster and a lot less painful.

Ok, but what actually is the Common Data Model?

It’s a secure database stored in Microsoft Azure on your company’s Microsoft Account.  It’s made up of standard business entities and relationships, but it is designed to support businesses extending entities and building their own. It also has functions important to business data management, such as auto numbering, cascading delete, and explicit data types such as Addresses. Also, it’s constantly being improved and revised by Microsoft.  That last part might seem a bit unnerving, but Microsoft will be explicitly versioning the Common Data Model as they update it, so you can always target a specific version if you’re concerned about what changes might mean for your business data.  You will be able to access and manage it from (and in fact, you can preview it there right now).

How can I use it?

For businesses, this is a two-pronged question.  The first method is implicitly.  Simply by subscribing to Dynamics 365 and Office 365, you’re going to use it.  It’s the glue that connects what used to be disparate applications of Dynamics CRM and Dynamics AX, and eventually more deeply into Office 365 than Dynamics CRM even does now.  One of the promises of this model is native integration of AD and CRM data, something that has always been a bit of a sore point in having separate ERP and CRM solutions. Time will tell if the CDM will be robust enough to replace a dedicated ETL tool like Scribe, but the fact that it’s there at all is a major step forward.

The second method is explicitly.  Microsoft has built a whole business platform on top of the Common Data Model intended to enable power users and developers do their work better and faster.  We’ve all worked in companies where someone built an amazing Excel spreadsheet or Access application that ended up being business-critical.  And it’s great until you realize it doesn’t scale, and one hard drive failure could mean the loss of a whole line of business.  So take the best parts of enabling your people to simplify their job with the power of keeping all that good information structured the way the business cares about, and that’s what these new tools are about. 

PowerApps is the premier of the new tools.  The core concept of PowerApps is that end users can connect to business databases and applications, build a UI to manage the data via drag-and-drop, and then publish it out to anyone that want to use it.  And since it’s built from the ground-up to be mobile, PowerApps can be used from virtually any smartphone or web browser. But the true strength of PowerApps is connecting to all your business applications and data.  So beyond the Common Data Model as we’ve discussed, PowerApps can connect to many more services, from SharePoint, to Drobox, even FTP. And since every business has at least one custom piece of software, PowerApps is extensible by developers.  So you can enable your users to connect even to your custom systems by developing the data connector.   So now your power users can build line-of-business apps you’ve never even imagined, without violating the business’s key data needs.

So let’s take this to a specific example: let’s say a factory manager is looking for an easy way to capture potential improvement while walking the floor of their plant (Gemba walk, for those Lean-inclined).  They need something mobile, but they want to make sure they’re doing more than just jotting down on a notepad.  With PowerApps, that manager could put together a quick mobile app that pulls the Activities from Dynamics AX to the Common Data Model, a rating field for waste, and a field to capture details.  Then, since all this data is now stored centrally, when they get back to their office to analyze that information, PowerBI already is aware of it, and can query and structure the data, so the most obvious activities to eliminate waste are readily apparent. But that’s not all.  What we’ve shown could have been done manually, or with Excel and some effort, but it’s not stored centrally, and it’s not scalable.  If this PowerApp proves useful in eliminating waste, it can be shared with other managers for their own plants.  And then, with all that data centralized, the entire enterprise can start optimizing waste at levels above even the individual factory.  And all of that happened without the risk of losing data, or with anyone taking their “magic Access database” with them when they leave the company.

What is Microsoft doing with the CDM?

For Microsoft, the Common Data Model provides the best opportunity to provide true intelligence to its customers.  Azure Machine Learning, Cortana, and PowerBI all speak will the Common Data Model. which means that further than just keeping systems nicely integrated, Microsoft can actually offer true insights into your business data, on your behalf.  If you’ve used Bing in the past year or two, you’ll have noticed that the right panel provides lots of relevant information far deeper than a simple link.  That is what Microsoft calls Satori, and it’s part of how they structure information in order to better understand it and show it to people (much like Google’s Knowledge Graph).  Now imagine them being able to build that from your business data for you.  That’s one of the long-term plans with the Common Data Model.

And you can bet that the treasure trove of competitive and networking information that is LinkedIn will in time be formatted with the Common Data Model in mind.  Networking is one of the most powerful business enablement tools around, and the depth of understanding LinkedIn has of its people and what they do is unparalleled. You might not know that the client you just delivered a great product to went to school with CFO of a business you’re trying to close, but LinkedIn does.

What does this mean for the future?

For businesses, the Common Data Model is the promise of truly having a holistic way to look at all of your data. It’s a world where an Invoice is an Invoice, and a Contact is a Contact, no matter what system your people are in.  It’s a world where your applications provide proactive intelligence across the whole business.  And it’s a world where your power users are able to build the tools they need to do their job without undermining the quality of data in your organization. In short, it’s a world where all that overwhelming data that we’ve worked so hard to collect finally starts working for us in return.

Naturally, the Common Data Model is not the be-all end-all of such a vision, but it is a very strong first step.

If you’d like to know more about the Common Data Model, come to our booth at AXUG/CRMUG Summit in October.  Alternately, contact us ( to request a demo.



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