Are Power BI dataflows a master data management tool?
This guy really wants to know.
Spoiler alert: No. They are not.
When Microsoft first announced dataflows were coming to Power BI earlier this year, I started hearing a surprising question:
Are dataflows for Master Data Management in the cloud?
The first few times I heard the question, it felt like an anomaly, a non sequitur. The answer seemed so obvious to me that I wasn’t sure how respond.
But after I’d heard this more frequently, I started asking questions in return, trying to understand what was motivating the question. A common theme emerged: people seemed to be confusing the Common Data Service for Apps used by PowerApps, Microsoft Flow, and Dynamics 365, with dataflows – which were initially called the Common Data Service for Analytics.
The Common Data Service for Apps (CDS) is a cloud-based data service that provides secure data storage and management capabilities for business data entities. Perhaps most specifically for the context of this article, CDS provides a common storage location, which “enables you to build apps using PowerApps and the Common Data Service for Apps directly against your core business data already used within Dynamics 365 without the need for integration.” CDS provides a common location for storing data that can be used by multiple applications and processes, and also defines and applies business logic and rules that are applied to any application or user manipulating data stored in CDS entities.
And that is starting to sound more like master data management.
When I think about Master Data Management (MDM) systems, I think of systems that:
- Serve as a central repository for critical organizational data, to provide a single source of truth for transactional and analytical purposes.
- Provide mechanisms to define and enforce data validation rules to ensure that the master data is consistent, complete, and compliant with the needs of the business.
- Provide capabilities for matching and de-duplication, as well as cleansing and standardization for the master data they contain.
- Include interfaces and tools to integrate in with related systems in multiple ways, to help ensure that the master data is used (and used appropriately) throughout the enterprise.
And all the other things they do, I guess.
Power BI dataflows do not do these things.
While CDS has many of these characteristics, dataflows fit in here primarily in the context of integration. Dataflows can consume data from CDS and other data sources to make them available for analysis, but their design does not provide any capabilities for the curation of source data, or for transaction processing in general.
Hopefully it is now obvious that Power BI dataflows are not an MDM tool. Dataflows do provide complementary capabilities for self-service data preparation and reuse, and this can include data that comes from MDM systems. But are dataflows themselves for MDM? No, they are not.
 At the time, they weren’t called dataflows. Originally they were called the Common Data Service for Analytics, which may well have been part of the problem.
 There were many variations on how the question was phrased – this is perhaps the simplest and most common version.
 Other than by saying “no.”
 Taken directly from the documentation.
 Please understand that the Common Data Service for Apps is much more than just this. I’m keeping the scope deliberately narrow because this post isn’t actually about CDS.
 MDM is a pretty complex topic, and it’s not my intent to go into too much depth. If you’re really interested, you probably want to seek out a more focused source of information. MDM Geek may be a good place to start.