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If you read the marketing materials about Dynamics Customer Insights, you’ll notice that it focuses a lot on providing a "holistic view of customers" (customer 360), which might make it sound a lot like a master data management (MDM) platform. Yet nowhere in the description does Microsoft mention an MDM, instead referring to Customer Insights as a customer data platform (CDP). What's the difference?
Let's start with MDM. Master data management is a problem (with a variety of solutions) that has been around as long as we've had multiple systems holding customer data. You have a CRM application with some customer information, an ERP system with more, perhaps other line of business solutions for various departments with even more, and you need to match these together to be able to transfer information between them – i.e., be able to integrate where needed. An MDM platform covers this by maintaining and enforcing a unified customer record across all of the related applications, so that you can be certain that ABC Company in system 1 is the same as ABC Company in system 2. This makes integrating and reporting much easier and helps drive a holistic view of your customers. The key attributes of MDM, however, are being actively involved in integration processes – the MDM enforces each system to have the correct data about the unified customer record. An MDM solution will also be defined by strict rules identifying where the source of truth is for any given piece of data or attribute and mappings between fields in various systems to facilitate the integrations.
A CDP is very similar, but a bit different in some important ways. First of all, the CDP (and in this case we're speaking specifically about Dynamics Customer Insights, though this would apply generally) is a read-only repository of information to be used for analysis and reporting. While an MDM would play traffic cop between integrated systems, the CDP doesn't even care if systems ARE integrated. The CDP is an aggregator, but not an enforcer – the job for the platform is to unify data from different systems to provide the Customer 360 only, not to tell those source systems how to handle their own data. Customer Insights does not push anything back down to source applications if their data is out of line; rather, the power of the platform is in determining how to merge data from all of the various sources into a single view. Customer Insights does this by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) to help determine how data should be merged and to identify the same customer across various systems. This is another key difference – while an MDM will have strict rules to define how records are matched and sourced, the CDP will use AI to take much of this work on itself. This means you define general rules (like which data sources you trust over others, how you want Customer Insights to match between systems, etc.) but don’t need to build every rule, process, or exception to match records together. The CDP is also designed to help with analytics and business processes but will remain a read-only data source for other applications or reports.
So no, Customer Insights is not an MDM solution, even though both can help provide that holistic view. We’ll answer the next question, "do I need a CDP if I already have an MDM?" next week.
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