Clients often wait for direction on what needs to be done at the start of a project, particularly when a vendor has been hired to do the bulk of the work. I often tell our clients that the best thing you can do is start an inventory of the data that needs to go into the new system. This should start with your current system, whether that be on paper or in another database.
The inventory is often referred to as “The Data Dictionary” and is the most often referred to document in any project. It helps determine where you are and where you are going. It aids in the creation of the fields in the new system, the data migration efforts, integration, and finally testing efforts.
Creating a data dictionary is something you can do even before you hire a solution provider. This helps you organize and discover what it is you want in your new system. I use an Excel spreadsheet for data dictionaries and have a tab for each table or group of data (otherwise known as entities in Microsoft Dynamics CRM) to keep me organized. Along the top of a worksheet, I will list the type of information I need to capture, namely:
- Field Name
- Database Field Name
- Data Type
- Description (what it is used for)
I also like to specify some properties for each field, such as:
- Read Only (Yes or No)
- Audit (Yes or No)*
- Required (Yes or No)
- Sample List of data
*Auditing allows you to track when a field is modified and who modified a specific field.
**List any requirements or business rules such as “if X = yes, then field Y = Z”
Once this is done, the dictionary can be shared and used in the creation of the new system. Fields I add specifically for Microsoft Dynamics CRM are:
- CRM Destination Field Name
- CRM Destination Field Label
- Data Type
- Is it integrated with System X? (Yes/No)
Examples of these are in the template.
As fields are created in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, the data dictionary gets updated so that it reflects what is happening in the system. Once completed, this document can be given to the person on the project who will do the data migration. You are now aware where you are getting the data and where it is going. The whole process is mapped out and reduces churn during the migration phase.
If I’m integrating Dynamics CRM with an ERP system, I will also indicate which field needs to be in sync with that system. This document then becomes an input to the integration process and can be expanded or used to reference other integration documents.
Finally, this document is referred to in the testing process. A proper testing effort will test every field in the new system for function as well as test the data in the new system vs the old for accuracy.
If you would like to download a starter data dictionary template, it can be found here: Data Dictionary Template.xlsx
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