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What is the Dynamics 365 Common Data Model? by

At the heart of all technology implementations is the question: How do I use my data to make informed business decisions? This almost always leads to questions around data management. Questions like, “How can these two tools talk to each other so that I can understand if there’s a correlation?” are often considered before, during, and post-project implementation. In order to answer these questions, integrations are almost always involved.

Data often needs to move between two systems, such as a two-way integration between Dynamics 365 for Operations and Dynamics 365 Sales, or a one-way integration between a Dynamics 365 application and another database. (The options for integrations are endless.) Up until recently, each integration was custom built, which made them expensive, potentially risky, and difficult to maintain unless the original developers are roped in for maintenance.

The Common Data Model (CDM), however, simplifies the integration process by providing template integrations between two systems. CDM bridges the gap between disjointed data repositories, granting easier cross-platform business reporting.

For Dynamics 365, this means having the ability to easily integrate customer data from Dynamics 365 and financial information from Dynamics 365 for Operations. CDM removes the fear of custom integration development by providing templates for common connections. These templates guide system administrators through the integration process without any coding languages, which means integration jobs are now accessible to a larger community of Dynamics consumers.

The Common Data Model ships with a set of standard entities across common industry data types, including sales, purchasing, customer service and Office productivity. Currently there are 65 standard entities shipped, although this number is growing rapidly. In addition, you can add custom entities to the CDM.

Common Data Model (CDM) vs. Common Data Service (CDS)

CDS stands for Common Data Service while CDM means Common Data Model. Roughly speaking, the Common Data Service utilizes the Common Data Model to easily generate cross-platform business reporting.

At the core, this comes down to data management. How can I get a clear view of my business when I have customer data in Dynamics 365 for Sales, and financial details in Dynamics 365 for Operations? This is what CDM and CDS aim to resolve.

Microsoft explains that “the Common Data Model is implemented to simplify the challenges of data management.” CDM allows developers and IT professionals to set-up new tools with ease; Microsoft power-users can use these tools to set up their own methods to automate and measure business processes, which leads to better and faster business reporting.

The CDM is a secure, separate database that contains a standard, structured view of common business data elements. To be clear, the CDM is NOT a replacement for xRM development platform. It is a separate database designed to be a common schema connection between other databases and apps. Think of it as a parallel data repository that syncs Dynamics 365 data with other platforms.

What Does CDM Provide End-Users and System Admins?

 In the old world, data management and integrations were expensive and time-consuming – they required specialized developers to build, test, and maintain. And most home-grown integrations were poorly documented, leading to lots of time spent trying to fix things that went wrong, and the original developer not available to explain how they deployed the integration in the first place.

In the new world, the Common Data Model provides uniform data management templates so that the chaos of home-grown processes is eliminated. System administrators that are not developers can be trained to monitor and even set-up their own integrations, removing the need for custom development. For example, using Microsoft Flow, you can connect data from a Dynamics 365 application to Dynamics 365 for Operations without knowing SSIS or any coding languages! There are about 100 ready-to-use services here.

The process for setting up your own integration with CDM is straightforward: CDM and its integration templates are built to guide administrators through the process quickly and effortlessly. At this point, it’s easy to think the Common Data Model only provides out-of-the-box, “cookie-cutter” template integrations, and you might be thinking, “Well, this won’t give me what I need” – but you would be wrong. The Common Data Model templates give you flexibility throughout the integration setup to define steps, conditions, loops, and more. They are designed to be robust, yet painless.  

What does CDS and CDM mean for Developers?

The Common Data Model is a secure method for exposing Microsoft databases that allows developers to build custom connections with other databases. These connections are intended to be developed for end-user consumption as “drag-and-drop” applications that can be pushed to any organization of any size or business model.

So, what does this mean for developers? This means you won’t need to spend time building the same integrations over and over again to connect CDM organizations to another database. Instead, you will be developing and upgrading the ‘Common’ template connection, or developing the most sophisticated integrations that CDM templates currently can’t handle.

Specifically, utilizing CDS and CDM will allow data management specialists to set up integrations in a fraction of the time: a simple integration might take eight hours using SSIS, but CDS/CDM would cut this time to two hours.

To build a simple website or mobile app, you need to have access to money, resources, and ample time to design, implement, and test. With the combination of PowerApps and Common Data Service, you can now easily create a simple website or custom application. Additionally, you can integrate with Office 365 products and other non-Microsoft platforms such as Salesforce and Trello, in a fraction of the time. Central to this concept is the requirement to connect data from services you already use, like Dynamics 365, your ERP system, your Office 365, SharePoint, Salesforce.com, etc.

Lastly, Microsoft allows you to integrate with custom web services. Many additions like this come straight from the developer community (you can up-vote ideas for Microsoft to add here).

Is it Secure?

Entity level authorization and role based security ship with this release. Field and row level security are coming in future releases. Currently, permission sets are the foundation of the Common Data Service security model. Much like Dynamics 365 security settings, the permission sets are made of a list of entities and the level of access granted per entity. Each entity comes with two permission sets; a View set and a Maintain set.

What is new with the Common Data Model?

The CDM was announced back in July, and since then there have been many improvements and new features. Included in the latest version:

  1. Improved app from data generation on standard and custom entities with field groups
  2. Multi-field lookups
  3. Editable data import/export entity field mappings
  4. Ability to export data import/export templates
  5. Multi-sheet Excel import
  6. Simplified address type, complex types for Quantity, Person name, GUID, Date
  7. Central place to view entity relationships
  8. Simplified primary key definition
  9. Searchable fields allow for indexed searches
  10. Entity data explorer in creator portal
  11. Null support
  12. Default value support for simple data types

What’s Next?

Microsoft believes integrated data is required for intelligent business reporting, and they are continuously improving CDM and CDS to help support this. The most recent updates to CDM include new entities and relaxed field requirements, both of which were based on feedback from the community. Microsoft is invested in listening to the voice of its customers and partners, and they continue to release improved functionality.

As the Microsoft Dynamics family of applications grows, understanding CDM will become vital to the success of a developing system. This is why passing along admin “tips and tricks” to system administrators is so important, and CDM is the big new tool everyone needs to know how to use.

If you need help setting up your own data management method using CDM, or want to discuss more Dynamics 365 options, contact Hitachi Solutions today!