Organizations aim to become more data-driven so that they can improve their decision-making process and accelerate growth. The key to getting there is to first identify a plan to get clean data and structure your data processes. In order to do that, businesses need to prioritize and work toward establishing clear data governance strategies implemented with a strong channel of internal communications. In the 2022 State of Data Governance Report, conducted by ESG, around 42% of the respondents expressed two overwhelming challenges that they hope to conquer with an effective data governance strategy which are limited visibility and data quality concerns.
At To-Increase, we are an independent software vendor (ISV) for Microsoft ERPs. And we speak to organizations across industries to understand their day-to-day challenges using Microsoft ERPs. This helps us understand the gaps within the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance & Supply Chain Management (D365 F&SCM) ERP and build enterprise-ready solutions that can help organizations quickly achieve their goals without the need for any development. We offer no-code/low-code solutions that can help organizations at every step in the data lifecycle. Using our data integration, governance, and analytics solutions, you can improve data quality, streamline data entry processes, manage master data, secure data, integrate your systems and applications, and also achieve better business intelligence and analytics.
Since we understand the path to better data analytics, is to first focus on integration, data governance, and security, we have written this blog to help our prospects understand the challenges within the D365 ERP and how our Master Data Management suite and application integration solutions can be used to mitigate those challenges. But before we dive into the challenges, let’s go through our offerings.
What is the Master Data Management suite?
A few years ago, we launched Master Data Management Studio which has been built on our integration and data migration solution – Connectivity Studio. Using Master Data Management Studio, you can manage master data centrally or de-centrally, distribute data with legal entities inside D365 F&SCM, and also with external systems, control change request management, and fields can be managed at a global and local level.
Within the Master Data Management suite, we also have Data Quality Studio and Data Entry Workflow. Both these solutions help you improve data quality during data entry or data import. With Data Quality Studio you can configure data quality rules and perform data quality assessments to improve data accuracy. And using Data Entry Workflow, you can configure workflows with parallel or subsequent steps and assign relevant fields to team members to fill in or approve within a time limit.
An overview of the Master Data Management suite:
Challenges within D365 that our Master Data Management suite and integration solutions can solve
1. Data integration
You can integrate data using the existing data entities in Microsoft’s Data Management Framework. The problem arises when the naming structure of the tables and fields that you are trying to map are different. The existing data entities used in D365 are not flexible. So, if you do not implement an enterprise-ready solution, you would have to hire developers.
Let’s look at an example, let’s say that you have a particular format from SAP to integrate with your ERP that has a different data model with different field names, to map that data will be quite hard without using an additional integration platform or writing code. Using Connectivity Studio, you can simply configure this integration, and it allows you to transform messages in a flexible way without any additional coding.
Leveraging the capabilities of Connectivity Studio, you can integrate your MDM solution (Master Data Management Studio) with the ERP, business systems, and other applications. Additionally, using the Connectivity Monitor app, which is part of the solution, you can monitor integration performance and MDM messages.
Microsoft is using standard data entities which might not cover all tables and fields. So, then you would need to begin development and that can be prevented by using a configurable solution such as Connectivity Studio.
Using Connectivity Studio, you can map any field, and any table in D365 F&SCM using configurations. Our solution allows you to use placeholder values and transform messages using constants, defaults, and conversions in a flexible way without any additional coding.
|Related reading: Microsoft’s Data Management Framework Versus To-Increase’s Application Integration Solution for D365 🔗
2. Workflows for data entry
In Dynamics 365, there are more than 1500 tables and hundreds of fields per form. If you want to customize forms to make it simpler and less overwhelming for your team members, then you can consider development. Additionally, there is no way to prevent team members from using or changing information in the system, which can be a major risk for business.
And in case you want critical information to be approved by appointed team members, you cannot assign the form to them using D365 F&SCM. So, for example, if someone creates a new customer record with just a number, some mandatory fields, and an address, then everyone can start using those customer details without the finance team being able to provide and validate a credit limit or maybe provide details for certain other fields such as default dimensions. Without the credit limit and correct dimensions, any kind of transaction that exceeds the actual limit could be a risk for the organization. And any records that are not validated by the data owners can also make reporting difficult.
To mitigate these challenges with data entry, we developed a no-code solution – Data Entry Workflow. You can use the solution to design a workflow with steps assigning specific fields to the responsible people for filling in the data with an assigned time and an approval step for validation of certain fields by data owners. Additionally, Data Entry Workflow can be integrated with our master data management solution. The data can be shared to master data based on the steps defined in the workflow. This can ensure that master data is distributed after being validated by the correct team/person and there is a streamlined process for data entry in D365 F&SCM.
|Related reading: What is Data Entry Workflow? How Can it Help Your Organization?🔗
3. Data quality management
In Microsoft Dynamics 365, currently, there is no restriction on what value to enter in which fields or a setup to add rules for data entry. We have had our customers tell us that since there is no limitation within the solution, their team enters multiple email addresses in a single field which then could cause issues in particular processes, for example, while sending invoices electronically.
Additionally, it is possible to have typos or incorrect data entered which can be flagged if there was a way to add rules. Sometimes, it could be a lot of fields and due to this, people enter an incorrect value, for example, a phone number in an email field or vice versa.
So, to help you set up rules and share guidance for fields, we have developed the Data Quality Studio solution. Using our solution, you can guide your team by adding rules on what values are allowed to be entered in a particular field while also adding a note to guide them.
Sometimes team members might miss filling in critical fields that could hamper day-to-day tasks such as financial dimensions. So, with our solution, you can make important fields mandatory and define the conditions for the same without doing any customizations and simply using configurations.
You can change a property and make it mandatory in the standard as there is a configuration provided by Microsoft but with some downsides. When customers implement customizations to validate data, they are not agile in comparison to configurations. We have more data validation options like checking for data patterns, setting a pre-defined list of allowed values, and validating data by connecting to external web services.
In the standard D365 version, to add any data enrichment rules, you would have to go for customizations. However, with Data Quality Studio you can add rules that define specific values that can be populated automatically, add a rule to prefill fields with pre-defined rules. You can also set up a configuration with an address validation service to auto-complete data to ensure data is entered correctly with a guideline for users to understand how that data needs to be entered. You can configure a connection with a web service for external validations to verify email addresses, postal addresses, phone numbers, and much more.
Sometimes when people are searching for an existing customer in Dynamics 365, they might not find it quickly as it was filled in with the wrong spelling by someone else from the team. So, there is a good chance that the record was recreated as a new record in Dynamics 365 and that leads to data duplication. It is too easy to create duplicates in the standard without any rules to block that action.
However, using Data Quality Studio for Dynamics 365 F&SCM, you can add rules for duplicate checks to avoid such a situation or look for duplicates using basic matching or fuzzy logic that then lists all the possible duplicates in the system with a score calculated for multiple fields with similar values. Additionally, you can perform periodic checks for data quality using the solution.
|To understand how this can be done, read our blog: How to Set up Validation Rules Using Data Quality Studio for D365? 🔗
4. Data distribution
Microsoft Dynamics 365 F&SCM comes with limited and conflicting features for sharing master data. The duplicate record sharing and master company sharing features have limitations and downsides. These include, e.g. a limit on the number of legal entities, mandatory fields to be shared, financial dimension fields are not supported, no easy way to manage local values for master data records, and Dual Write is not supported with other Dynamics 365 apps. As per the master record, you cannot manage the distribution of master data to select companies in a flexible way. In the standard application, sharing across companies and integration with external applications do have two different technologies and triggers.
Our Master Data Management Studio can support you with all kinds of master data including item, vendor, and customer master records. Additionally, since it has been built on our integration engine, data migration, and data synchronizing can be done using simple configurations. When you transfer data without using an add-on integration tool, it is difficult to distinguish between master data and additional data that needs to be managed at a local level. Using our MDM solution, you can share selected master data records with specific companies/legal entities.
Our MDM tool can be used for both a push and pull data strategy. To explain, a push strategy would mean that if a master data record is created in the master data company, then we can add that record to Master Data Management Studio and distribute it to the legal entities that are defined by you. Let’s look at an example to explain this.
Let’s say you need to add a new product and you want to add it as a new item to the group. When you create master records it can be distributed to other legal entities once released by a data steward. So, you use MDM Studio to distribute this master data from one legal entity to another.
Moving on to a pull strategy, if a team member wants to request for a master record that has not been shared with their company, they can do that too using our MDM solution by reviewing available master records and request to distribute it to their own company.
In the standard D365 ERP, if you do some setup for master company sharing then you cannot manage the time when it will be executed but using Master Data Management Studio, you can schedule the time your master data needs to be transferred to other legal entities. Since our solutions work seamlessly together, you can then set up a workflow using the Data Entry Workflow solution. The workflow will be triggered after the master data is received in other legal entities, where users will be assigned a task to provide values for local fields that are unique to their legal entity.
Let’s look at an example where your organization is doing business in multiple different countries, and you copy products from the master data management company to other legal entities. The Item sales tax, for example, might be different and the prices and currency might be different, so that needs to always be reviewed and completed on the local level. And that's just hard with the standard options provided and we can support this process with our ISV solutions.
5. Data security
Currently, in standard Dynamics 365, there are no rules for data entry or master data distribution. This can lead to incorrect information, especially when users have incorrect permissions to enter data. All of our solutions in the Master Data Management suite have in-built features that provide security.
For internal validation of data, most forms in D365 do not support an approval process on data creation or before sending or receiving the data.
Imagine creating a new released product record. Without a review and approval, you might have incorrect and even incomplete information. You definitely do not want to let users create orders with incorrect details on these products.
Another challenge in D365 is making changes in master data. So, if someone needs to make a change in the data, they will have to send an email and wait for a response. There is no way to raise a request in the D365 application so that the data steward is notified and can act soon.
However, using our MDM solution, you can raise a change request for any data that needs to be updated or changed in a secure way. You can design a workflow to ensure the review of the data is performed by the responsible data owners using Data Entry Workflow.
Let’s look at an example. Imagine you have a centralized master data management department in your organization. A sales person gets a new delivery address from the customer. Using a workflow template, this person can provide the new address details that can be reviewed and approved by a data owner.
Lastly, we would like to talk about field-level security. It is not possible to create one single security role which will prevent you from accessing some fields for one legal entity but not for other legal entities. In a case where every country/company within Dynamics 365 is responsible for their own master data but will also send and receive master data then there are some records that they own and should be able to manage and have access to all fields. But for the received master data records they would not be allowed to change particular data based on policies within the company.
Master Data Management Studio has a Dynamic Field Security feature that builds an added layer of security for our customers. Using this feature, you can control the fields that need to be managed on a global as well as at a local level. One legal entity can be both master and local; depending on who owns the data e.g. a customer record. Then the field access control with our solution is more flexible than using the options in the standard security framework.
Are you considering data governance for your organization?
If you are still formulating your data governance strategies, we recommend reading our Top 9 Data Governance Best Practices blog. While implementing any data governance strategy it is also important to define clear roles and responsibilities for various people across the organization.
If you already have a data governance strategy outlined, the next step is to look for a solution that complements your vision. And if your organization faces any of the challenges mentioned in this blog for D365, To-Increase’s data governance solutions can definitely help you streamline and simplify your data processes across the organization.
Every organization’s data governance requirements might vary. Your organization might be looking for solutions for specific use cases. Using our solutions, you can solve challenges in master data management, data entry, data quality, and data security in D365 F&SCM. To learn more about our solutions in the Master Data Management suite, download the factsheet from the link below.