One of the more interesting concepts that has really gotten a boost, with native support in Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, is around the Master Data Mangement (MDM). This is not a new business domain issue, it's been around for sometime, however there are some great new features about Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, that enable native master data management concepts within the application itself. 

Some of these area's include Product Data Management (PDM) / Product Information Management (PIM), Chart of Accounts, Number Sequences, etc. These have elements to them now, where data lives at the instance level, vs. just at the legal entity, or company level. 

Because of this fact, now within AX 2012, exists the ability to Manage global product data including very nice hierarchies. These products can then be released into a specific legal entity or company for use to buy, sale and make for the given products / items. The term item, is actually replaced at the product information management module, with 'Released Products'. 

These product information concepts are covered very well, in the following series of post, located here:

-Product Management with Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 - Part I

-Product Management with Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 - Part II

-Product Management with Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 - Part III

-Product Management with Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 - Part IV

With this information, one would ask then about the use of Microsoft SQL Server - Master Data Services, and AX 2012. This is a valid line of thought, as it's a new technical solution, to help possible resolve business domain issues around management of master data. 

We have to take a step back however, at this point, and why I think it's important to understand the nature of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 projects, in that they are business projects, and not technical projects. I will refer back to my previous article of this column, "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should".

So, in order to understand where a technology like Master Data Services fits into a possible Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 project, we need to look at value, and then context. What do I mean by these terms? Well if you are taking, and the end result is a company wide, single instance of Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012, replacing alot of your companies current line of business (LOB) applications, then adding the complexity that can come with an MDS deployment looses a lot of value. The reason this is relates to the second point about context. 

The context for this given example, is AX 2012 is the System of Record and System of Entry for your Master data elements. Since that is the case, there is very little business value for adding a layer of complexity to your overall solution, with a technology like Master Data Services. AX 2012 can handle all of your Master Data Management (MDM) needs, and so that sets our context for the value in this example. 

Moving forward, what if we say Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 is going to exists in a tiered, or two tier environment? Where, AX 2012 is then used as a divison level, or does not exists within a single instance, but multiple instance level. This then means, that there is a not a single instance of AX 2012 that is acting truly as the System of Record for master data. Since that is our context, we can look to the possible use of Master Data Services, as it's potential for adding value has increased.

In this example, AX 2012 is a spoke, in the hub-and-spoke concept, or again tiered concept, where as a company is having to manage, as part of their total solution, multiple line of business applications, that Microsoft Dynamics AX 2012 is a part of. When this is the case, then we still have to look at where the System of Entry for each type of Master Data entity will be, and truly what is meant to be the System of Record. 

So we still need to define further context, to determine the value of adding Master Data Services to resolve business domain issues, relating to having a single Master, for say Products, that all subscribers work from. The arguement, still, can be made that AX 2012 have the capability of being that System of Record, with it's rich new features around Master Data Management concepts

However, again, when the business requirements define, that a single System of record needs to exists, for all line of business applications, and we have the context of the hub and spoke, or tiered environment, again the value of Master Data Services, and what it offers rises as a possible solution. 

I will caution, that when the context and value point to using a solution, like Master Data Services is reached, that type of project, the Master Data Management project, can be massive in itself. There is a lot to agree upon, understand, map and translate to, data stewards, data owners and governing business rules to decide upon. All of which affects publishers and subscribers within this given part of a solution. 

I will finish with this fact, that for any Master Data Management project, that involves ERP related business data, the solution is only 20%, and human workflow is still 80%. Someone has to take and make a business decision. Trying to write endless rules, that make an attempt to streamline this, seems to only add to the complexity of such a project, when the end true value could have been an alert to the right party, so a decision by the data owner and data stewards can be made. 

If your interested in understand Master Data Services better, I actually started a LinkedIn group on this topic last year, that is gaining in it's members, who have shared with the group some great stories in which they have used Master Data Services, to enable value add to their companies or respective clients. You can find out more about that group here: SQL Server Master Data Services Group on LinkedIn 

Well that's all for now, till next month!