April 30, 2010

Abstract: The Challenges of Multi-Tenant Aware CRM Instances

By Derek Martin and Jake Watkins

Wherever possible, organizations tend towards centralization of data.  Whether that be from a taxonomy perspective, document management perspective, or a customer data management perspective, these centralizations are critical to information security, awareness, conformity and efficiency.  The need for these commonalities are brought into sharp focus when a tool is selected that offers disparate business users the ability to rapidly prototype and deploy data or workflow driven business processes using a standardized mechanism.  Business units all share some similar data that is valuable to the organization as a whole.  Where possible, the business managers attempt to coordinate their taxonomies and linguistic patterns, however, discrepancies always appear in the system in short order.  Is the full name used?  Is an abbreviation used? Is the field a 50 char or a 25 char value with validation or without?  These are fundamental questions that speak to the ultimate value of data in an enterprise when considering auditing and reporting requirements.  Without a mechanism for enforcing corporate standards and policies surrounding these fundamental information patterns, data becomes fragmented at best and utterly useless at worse.

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 is a multi-tenant aware application.  By design, it lends itself to rapid prototyping and deployment of information and workflow driven business processes that are completely isolated from the other tenants, sharing only the physical resources of the server(s) and database(s).  In an ISV or hosting model, this approach makes perfect sense as different tenants will almost never need to share data.  However, there are large numbers of CRM 4.0 customers where this segregation of data is much fuzzier and there needs to be a mechanism to bring corporate owned commonalities to each of the tenants.  Further, these commonalities extend beyond simple fields and labels – they include regulatory compliance challenges, workflow and integration challenges, reporting challenges and data security challenges.  A different approach than the isolated gardens of the out of the box CRM tenant model are needed.  The Master/Subordinate Design Pattern for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 is a series of business rules, modeled entities and automated processes that allows for a centrally controlled master tenant that provides subordinate tenants the means to accomplishing these data challenges.

The abstract you see above is one of three white papers I am currently working on.  The white papers will be published here, and possibly elsewhere, in the coming weeks.  I hope you find them useful and interesting!