Microsoft and Salesforce race to offer a single view of customers' data

Microsoft, Adobe and SAP aren't yet revealing technical details of the Open Data Initiative they announced this week. But Azure Data Lake and the Microsoft CDM seem to figure prominently.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

With Microsoft's Ignite and Salesforce's Dreamforce conferences happening the same week, it's not too surprising the two were gunning to unveil the biggest and best partnership line-ups. Microsoft called on Adobe and SAP, and Salesforce on Apple and SAP during their respective keynote kickoffs.

Microsoft took the wraps off something called the "Open Data Initiative" (ODI), which it founded with Adobe and SAP, on Sept. 24. The high-level mission of the ODI is to "reimagine customer experience management" (aka CRM) by being able to integrate CRM, ERP, commerce, sales, product usage and other data into a single data view that works across devices.

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I've spent the last few days trying to glean any kind of technical details about the planned deliverables, to no avail. (It looks like some analysts did get NDA briefings about what ODI actually is, but it seems Microsoft isn't willing to talk about this yet.)

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft did provide the high-level architectural diagram describing ODI, which I've embedded above. The platforms which the original founders of ODI are looking to integrate are the Adobe Customer Experience Platform, the Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM/ERP platforms and SAP C/4HANA CRM and SAP S/4HANA database. The goal of integrating these, as well as other CRM, ERP and database platforms is to create a single view of customer data, but one which customers -- not the vendors -- will control.

What's not labeled in the diagram, but which I've heard from a few different sources, is the low-level Azure data layer is a reference to Azure Data Lake storage. And the "one data model" in the diagram is Microsoft's Common Data Model (CDM).

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Azure Data Lake is Microsoft's repository for big-data analytic workloads in the cloud.Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2 unifies the core capabilities of the first-generation Azure Data Lake with a Hadoop-compatible file system endpoint that has been directly integrated into Azure Blob Storage.

The Microsoft Common Data Model, which Redmond has used extensively in its own Dynamics offerings, is an open-source definition of standard entities that represent commonly used concepts and activities across a variety of business and application domains. In the October 2018 update to Dynamics 365, the Microsoft Data Integration platform will be updated with more connectors and gateways "that make it possible to bring any external data into the Common Data Service and store the data in Common Data Model (CDM) form."

Because both Adobe and SAP previously committed to making their software/services available on Azure, it's not surprising that Microsoft's cloud is the common thread in this partnership. All three of these vendors already committed to running their CRM, ERP and database products on Azure. From there, I'd imagine it's not a huge step for them all to commit to using Azure Data Lake and CDM.

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The part of the diagram I'm most curious about is the common AI piece of the base layer. Adobe is going its own way with AI, as is SAP, as is Microsoft. On the ERP/CRM front, Microsoft recently announced it will be rolling out more new AI-infused Dynamics apps (for Sales, Customer Service and Insights). Maybe Microsoft will offer up some lower-level pieces of its Azure AI infrastructure, such as its Machine Learning and Cognitive Services to be incorporated as part of the ODI specs, moving forward. Or perhaps Microsoft's "Power platform," which centers around Power BI business-intelligence/analytics, will become a key component of ODI.

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There's another potentially interesting piece of the ODI which no one discussed publicly at Ignite this week. If you look at the URL of the ODI -- https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/quantum/open-data-initiative -- it's somehow related to Microsoft's quantum-computing efforts, apparently. Quantum originally was supposed to be a big topic at Ignite, but barely got a mention. Data-intensive problems are ideally suited to quantum processing, so the connection between the two may not be tenuous....

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