A lot of companies use some Master Data Management application to manage shared data, e.g., product-related data, between several systems. Some larger companies even have separate departments in different domains to keep their data managed. But even for smaller companies, Master Data Management should be worth considering. It enables the publishing of product data to different parties to become more (time-)efficient. Furthermore, it can act as a single source of truth for your master data. When the data is in one central place, there are also other benefits such as when you compose a product catalog or can provide a webshop with product data. Read more about the Proof of Concept Ferry Jongmans created during his graduation at Schouw Informatisering.
If the solution is built as a ready-to-ship software solution, it could be a potential part of Foodware 365. Keep in mind this is a Proof of Concept and not a production-ready software solution.
The Master Data Management process is split up into three main pieces, always starting with the data sources. The chosen sources are an ERP application Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central which is targeted for the SMB food market. The other source is a spreadsheet; a Microsoft Excel file. This data has to be related, transformed and stored into a central place where it can be enriched. After editing existing records or adding more information, you want to have these changes approved since we are editing a "golden record". When the data is complete, there can be several data targets. For the Proof of Concept, we've targeted GS1-GDSN, a Global Data Synchronization Network implemented by GS1.
During the initial phase of the Proof of Concept, several serverless Cloud services from Azure were tested, combined with the fairly new 365 Power Platform to support the functions and services of Master Data Management. The Microsoft 365 Power Platform consists of four main parts:
After examining each component within the Power Platform and testing several serverless Cloud services like Logic Apps and Function Apps, products were successfully stored in CDS with their manufacturers from Business Central. In addition to that dataset, a separate Excel spreadsheet is imported with additional allergen and nutritional information for the products from Business Central. After the import has run, the data can be enriched. This is done through Microsoft PowerApps. It will not be saved immediately since it first needs approval via Microsoft Flow. After approval, the changes are saved in CDS (the central datastore).
The next step is to determine deltas (changes) in the data coming from the various data sources to be able to just process and inform about deltas. When the data is complete and ready for the GDSN export, the export and outbound transformation process can be started. GDSN expects to use "item notifications" to notify GDSN for a new product.
All the gathered data is stored centrally, and it can be enriched and maintained by different people from your organization. This ensures the central governance of the data. When the data is all in one central place, it makes telemetry and export to various data targets easier.
By using serverless Cloud functions the solution will be cost efficient since you only pay for usage. This makes it possible for small companies to perform Master Data Management in a cost-efficient way.
The most difficult part of developing this Proof of Concept has to do with Microsoft’s Power Platform. Working with PowerApps screens, data, and approvals brought some challenges, since this platform is quite new.
Master Data Management can be useful for smaller companies, particularly in the food sector because of its potential to optimize efficiency. Companies are sharing their data with retailers and other parties which all require their specific data format. Since the approved data is all centrally stored, it's easy to support multiple data targets.
However, the PowerApps used in the Proof of Concept has limited functionality due to the framework. Simple tasks could be performed in PowerApps (e.g., approval of data updates or changes), but the whole application of Master Data Management is a complex use case. This is a great learning experience for future scenarios and therefore very valuable for Foodware 365, for Schouw, its partners and customers.