Microsoft's Common Data Model: What users (not just Dynamics 365 ones) need to know

Microsoft's CDM is the linchpin for the recently announced Open Data Initiative and likely even more Microsoft products in the future.

In 2016, when Microsoft announced its makeover of its CRM and ERP strategy in the form of Dynamics 365, officials started talking up the Common Data Model (CDM), which was the heart of those services. Officials described CDM as "an out-of-box business database for storing and managing business entities." CDM wasn't very sexy, but was definitely very necessary.

Cut to 2018.

At the Ignite IT Pro conference last month, Microsoft made a big deal out of a new Open Data Initiative (ODI), which Microsoft launched with two other of its partners: Adobe and SAP. During the Ignite unveiling of ODI, officials shared next-to-no real details about ODI, other than some hints about the CDM being a key piece of it.

Credit: Microsoft

However, Microsoft actually did share some more public details about the ODI at Ignite in a session entitled "Introduction to the Microsoft Common Data Model." (An on-demand video recording of that session is here and most of the slides embedded in this blog post are from that talk.) That session made it clear that CDM is definitely key to Microsoft's plans in the data-integration space.

Credit: Microsoft

In that session, Microsoft execs noted that CDM came into being as part of Dynamics 365. They subsequently open-sourced the CDM and more than 250 entities via GitHub. The CDM isn't just about the entities, though. It also includes metadata about relationships, hierarchies and traits of those entities. The CDM is part of Microsoft's Common Data Service (more about that later in this post), PowerApps and Power BI. It also will be supported in some Azure Data services in the future.

Credit: Microsoft

Officials said the CDM will be evolving as part of ODI to provide unfied schema and semantics across data, apps and more. They didn't specify in which ways it will evolve, however.

Credit: Microsoft

CDM isn't the only piece of ODI that's from Microsoft. Azure Data Lake is another key foundational piece. Microsoft's goal is to break down data silos in the data lake, meaning greater compatibility across entities, metadata systems, and self-describing data folders, known as CDM folders, officials said.

During the Ignite CDM session, there were some strong hints that Informatica might be the next company to join the ODI. And there was talk about Azure data services -- Azure Data Factory, Azure Databricks, Azure Machine Learning and Azure Data Warehouse -- fitting into the ODI framework.

CDM is also the core of Microsoft's revamped CDS, or Common Data Service. Microsoft's recently introduced Common Data Service for Apps is basically XRM (Microsoft's "anything relationship management" platform for writing line-of-business apps) revisited and now running on Azure.

At Ignite in a session about Microsoft Project, Microsoft execs showed an interesting slide about the new Microsoft Project Service the company is building:

Credit: Microsoft (via Jukka Niiranen)

Look at all the apps/services that Microsoft is building on top of its Common Data Service for Apps platform: Roadmap and Project Management (both part of the new Project Service); Sales, Field Service, Customer Service; Time & Expense; and Resource Management.

Put all of these CDM, CDS for Apps and Azure services together, and you get a much more complete picture of where Microsoft is hoping to go with the Open Data Initiative and beyond:

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft's long-term goal for ODI is ambitious. The platform is meant to appeal to everyone from business analysts with few coding skills, to data scientists and engineers who are proficient in programming. But right now, ODI is a placeholder. It's a way for Microsoft to show it's serious about the concept of a single view of customer data. But in terms of deliverables, so far there seems to be little there beyond some slides.

Microsoft officials told Ignite attendees that it's working on entity definitions from Dynamics 365 for Finance & Operations, Marketing, Talent and more. It is planning previews of integrations with CDM in its Azure data services. And it plans to talk more about the Open Data Initiative in the coming weeks and months.