Common Data Services (CDS), Data Integrator and Dynamics 365, What will you do?

In my post on “My favorite features from the July 2017 update of Dynamics 365 For Finance & Operations“, I highlighted the availability of the Prospect to Cash integration scenarios between Dynamics 365 For Sales and Dynamics 365 For Finance and Operations.

The out of the box integration is probably one of the best things that can  happen to an ERP and CRM platform, where we will now depart from the traditional way of writing custom integrations every time, to be able to connect CRM and ERP systems. With the power of “Common Data Service(CDS) and the new “Data Integrator” feature now available, the integration of Dynamics 365 for Sales (CRM) and Dynamics 365 For Finance and Operations (ERP) is now possible right out of the box in Dynamics 365, with no or not much custom integration needed.

In this post, let us decode some of these new features and terminologies into simple definitions, so that we all can better understand what these are, how they work and what benefits these will bring on to the table for partners and customers.

Common Data Services: The ultimate purpose of Digital transformation initiatives and implementing business applications for an organization is to be able to drive and produce actionable data and then democratize the data for key users to make more sense out of those data from all areas of the business. You can then use the data to create BI dashboards/reports using Power BI or configure business apps using Microsoft PowerApps and share it with others in the business as needed.

At the core, Common Data Services is a Microsoft Azure based Cloud data storage service that allows to surface data from multiple applications (Such as Dynamics 365, Office 365, and other similar Azure or Non-Azure based services), and make them all available at one central place. The data model in the Common Data Services is referred to as the “Common Data Model” that basically contains several out of the box data entities. These entities then contain  the required set of data fields to store the data. Some examples of these data entities are “Customers”, Accounts, Contacts, ERP Sales Orders etc. When you create a new environment in CDS, you will see the readily available entities that you can take advantage of, or you can create your own entities as you need. You can  also modify the standard entities of CDS to be able to store data specific to your business.

Screenshot below shows some standard entities of the CDS and specific data fields of one of the entities.

Common Data Service Entities

Accounts Entoty

Data Integrator: With that high level overview of what is Common Data Service, let’s understand what is the Data Integrator. The Data Integrator is a new feature of the Common Data Services, that lets you build an end to end view of your business data by making Dynamics 365 data available in Common Data Service. It enables you to connect multiple business applications such as “Dynamics 365 for Sales” and “Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations”, by surfacing data from the source app to CDS and then passing it over from CDS to the target app automatically.

This is done through a set of Connection definitions and Connection sets, which are eventually used in the data integrator projects. Connections basically stores the active directory credentials for your target app/system. Connection sets primarily stores the organization mapping info(For example the Legal entities of D365 For Finance & Operations app and Sales Unit/organization of D365 for Sales). We will discuss more about the specifics of the Connections and Connection sets in a future post.

The data that is synchronized to CDS by Data Integrator is currently Read-Only and will not be editable. You can use the CDS data to sync that to other business apps or to create business applications using Microsoft Power Apps and CDS SDK.

Customers can create Data Integration projects by themselves from scratch or use existing templates provided by Microsoft and then set those data integration projects to run on a recurring basis to sync data into the CDS flow the data between multiple applications.

Screenshot below shows some data integration templates that are already available to pass data between Dynamics 365 for Sales and Dynamics 365 For Finance and Operations. These templates seems to be supporting the Prospect to Cash scenario between D365 For Sales and D365 For Finance and Operations, where you can pass Customers/Accounts data from Sales to Operations , pass Products/Items data from Operations app to the Sales app, or pass Sales quotation data from Sales to Operations(Still in preview) via the Common data Services.

Note: I have not configured my D365 For Sales environment yet, so I am not able to test the full experience yet, but it is very obvious how this feature is architected and how the data flow will happen between the apps. I will be able to test this soon, when the environment is ready in coming weeks.

Data Flow Overview via CDS

Data Flow Overview via CDS

Connection Set

Data Integrator

PowerApps and CDS: If you do not know already, think of PowerApps as the front end interface for interacting with the data in your database (which in this case will be the Common Data Services or any other supported services). The configurable data integrator feature of the CDS is the first step towards integrating the Dynamics 365 apps (Such as D365 For Sales and D365 For Finance and Operations). Down the line, all the apps under Dynamics 365 such as D365 for Project Service Automation, D365 for Field Service etc., will be supported for this integration, where we will be able to sync data between all these different purpose built apps using the CDS as the staging database.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Think about it ! Once your data is available in CDS via the Data integrator from multiple applications, Power users of your organization can write business apps (Mobile or tablet based) using this data and PowerApps and extend the business processes more with this. I explained some of my initial observation about PowerApps and CDS in my earlier post here. In future, Microsoft will surely make it easier by providing more and more out of the box data integration templates for more data integration scenarios and will automate the data sync to CDS automatically at some point, so that the data will be readily available in CDS any time for you to consume and use.

What is next: For customers who have the Plan 2 or Dynamics 365 For Finance and Operations subscription, they have access to Common Data Services and the Data integrator feature right now. Go and explore what you will do with it!!

I will share some real time testing experience of the Prospect to Cash integration scenarios between D365 Sales and D365 Operations with the Data Integrator, Connections, Connection sets etc., once I have my environment for D365 For Sales configured and after I have fully tested it.

Till then, stay tuned, stay current !!