For several years now, major vendors have promised a “digital” revolution, as organizations begin to transition away from either analog systems (including paper!) and to systems that, even if they were collecting data, were doing so in a silo, unconnected to the larger business, or in formats that couldn’t be shared with the broader organization. This created many business challenges, including that of building applications that could not talk to one another, or dependencies upon systems that were only available inside the corporate network boundary, or on devices that were of a particular size and shape and operating system.
The promise that Microsoft, and others, began to make was that when organizations adopted systems that were globally available, and used common data standards, that this information could be used to drive intelligence in every aspect of an organization. Want to know why your latest product wasn’t as popular as you’d predicted? Perhaps it was that your shipping department couldn’t fulfill deliveries in time due to challenges with the form factor size requiring bespoke containers which were delayed from the manufacturer due to a resource delay. (Whew!) Being able to address those issues in the design phase of a product, well in advance, seems almost magical: the ability to confidently predict the future.
The challenge with this model is simple and sticky: right now, the digital data embedded in every corner of an organization is often in a different format, or completely unstructured. To use our example above: if the proof that the manufacturer was experiencing resource delays is contained within a Word document emailed to the shipping department, it doesn’t matter that the information is digital in any sense, because it is not in a common format that can illuminate the business challenge. The problem grows worse the more non-common systems that are integrated, because folks expect any digital system to talk to one another.
How does this problem get solved? The answer, though equally simple, is a big deal: a common data model that all the systems can be integrated into. Microsoft itself is a great test case for this: they have multiple business systems in the market today (their legacy CRM and ERP products: six in total, and that’s before we add in productivity solutions such as Office 365, or identity products) that businesses could be adopting. Any system that they sell would, at a minimum, need to interconnect with all their other business and productivity systems.
Once the common data model is established, the true value of going digital becomes obvious: armed with an on-premises gateway and a series of connectors to other systems, every business system could be linked to one another to serve as a basis for gaining business intelligence. In the past, you’d have to hire a development team to go out, find and merge the data from disparate sources, perform some sort of normalization, and then attempt to gain insights.
In the new model, an executive can simply ask a question in their own language and gain insights without any development work.
How is this possible? Microsoft has a deceptively simple chart showing what the common data model, armed with a series of connectors and gateways, can accomplish:
Development teams can, of course, continue to build out new functionality to provide very specific applications, or intelligence, or reporting. But the true value is in the top two levels: the ability for folks to measure, act and automate, on any type of device, to drive value to their business. Need to wire up two systems that are using the common data model to perform a repeatable task? Flow can handle that. Want to start gaining intelligence about how your business is running, without having a team of analysts? PowerBI can simple surface up “insights” without any human interaction, based on access to the data (through connectors and gateways). Need to build a quick, easy to use application for a mobile device to control the inputs? PowerApps allows business users to perform these activities without writing a line of code.
This then, is the true future. Just as technology companies moved from lower-level computer languages to higher level ones, from regular programming to object-oriented, now that business logic is abstracted enough to be able to allow regular business users to essentially program and automate their organization, without any traditional coding. Imagine if, automatically, an email from your CEO was generated to any customer who ordered a product for the first time, or over a certain dollar amount, or based on a social media interaction. Any common task that takes place in the real world, where someone says “based on this data, do X” could be baked into a company runbook where these processes simply happened automatically. In many organizations, entire departments of folks exist purely to provide coverage for when a report, or bit of data, deviates from the normal flow. That can now be addressed programmatically in every sense of the word.
Your company may not be here yet. The infrastructure components (the connectors and gateways) still need to be setup for most firms, but the trickiest part, the common data model, is what Microsoft has committed to delivering this Fall as part of their Dynamics 365 launch. If you’re ready to truly go digitaland see immediate benefits, rather than just more hype, reach out to New Signature today.