The Microsoft Business Application certification landscape has been relatively quiet as of late. Granted, there have been a plethora of updates/refreshes done to exams such as PL-200, MB-240 and others, but the last time we saw new exams land was earlier this year when Microsoft revamped and split out the old Dynamics 365 Fundamentals exam into two separate exams, covering both the Customer Engagement and ERP applications (a good choice, in retrospect). But, aside from that, the new set of role-based certification exams appear to be working well. My only gauge for this is based on the number of LinkedIn posts I see each say announcing success at these exams, which we can take to mean that people (or people’s employers, as Microsoft partners 😉) are embracing them with open arms.
With all this in mind, it was interesting to see an announcement last week regarding a brand new exam, MB-260: Microsoft Customer Data Platform Specialist, which has an unusual distinction amongst the current set of Business Applications exams; namely, it’s the very first exam aligned to a Speciality, as opposed to an Associate or Expert certification. We’ve tended to see these types of exams over on the Azure / Microsoft 365 side, covering technology areas that are challenging to fit in as part of a role-based exam, such as Azure Virtual Desktop. And, indeed, as we’ll discover, the new MB-260 exam does have some creep into Azure as well. With all this in mind, let’s look at what this new exam is all about, what you can expect and how you can start preparing to sit it.
What’s MB-260 All About?
From the looks of it, the exam aims to “plug” the gap of a significant area within the current Business Applications “stack” that either a) doesn’t fit within any of the existing set of role-based certifications or b) is too large a topic to address sufficiently/in-depth within any other exam. A glance over the exam’s description helps to confirm this view:
Candidates for this exam implement solutions that provide insights into customer profiles and that track engagement activities to help improve customer experiences and increase customer retention.
Candidates should have firsthand experience with Dynamics 365 Customer Insights and one or more additional Dynamics 365 apps, Power Query, Microsoft Dataverse, Common Data Model, and Microsoft Power Platform. They should also have direct experience with practices related to privacy, compliance, consent, security, responsible AI, and data retention policy.
From a technology standpoint, the critical application on show here is Dynamics 365 Customer Insights, a platform we can leverage to bring together our organisations data to analyse and apply AI/Machine Learning techniques in a formalised manner. In the past, candidates of other exams would typically need a basic awareness of this tool to scrape by. Here, things move up several gears, and, as we’ll see, detailed knowledge of this application will be essential if you plan to attain a passing mark. For all intents of purpose, this is a Dynamics 365 Customer Insights exam.
Reviewing the Skills Measured
My previous statement bears other fruit when we consider the most crucial aspect of any Microsoft exam, the list of Skills Measured. As part of preparing to sit this or any Microsoft exam, it’s essential that you read through and understand what the exam is assessing you on and - most crucially - the weighting given to each topic area. In combination, you can use these to determine the amount of time to spend revising various topics and what types of questions you may see on the exam. A detailed review of the Skills Measured list for the MB-260 exam confirms the following:
- 100% of the exam weighting, based on the topics covered, involve Dynamics 365 Customer Insights in some description.
- The highest weighted topic (20-25%) is Create customer profiles by unifying data, which concerns the core activities that we’d complete when preparing our data in the tool for the first time, such as setting up matching, implementing merges and configuring relationships, amongst others.
- Although other technology areas are mentioned, such as Azure Data Factory and Power Query, this is strictly in the context of the Customer Insights application itself. For example, candidates only need to know how to ingest data into the application using Azure Data Factory pipelines; there appears to be little expectation of detailed knowledge of how to configure Data Factory pipelines and other topics beyond this.
- All of the Skills Measured would appear to align towards the typical steps you would need to complete when deploying a Customer Insights solution for the first time, from design to configuration right through to administration. This makes it essential for candidates to get “hands-on” experience with the product.
To summarise, if you haven’t yet spent much time working with Dynamics 365 Customer Insights (like me…😅), now’s the time to start investigating.
How to Prepare
Microsoft plans to release online learning paths and a Microsoft Official Course (MOC) for this exam, which should land early next year once the exam exits Beta. In the meantime, the only resources I can advise turning to is the official Microsoft Docs page for the product and the following Modules on the Microsoft Learn website:
- Review additional marketing apps
- Create a unified customer profile in Dynamics 365 Audience insights
- Ingest data into Audience insights
- Work with Dynamics 365 Audience insights
- Enrich data and predictions with Audience insights
Note that as part of these modules, Microsoft is still using some outdated terminology; I expect this will get addressed once the new learning paths are added.
I’m Sold. How Can I Sit the Exam?
The Beta for the exam is expected to open sometime during December 2021, which is the best period for MCT’s or experienced individuals to look at sitting the exam. We can then predict the exam to be moved out of beta sometime in early 2022; this would when I would recommend new or inexperienced individuals with the chosen topic area to look at taking it. Keep your eyes peeled on the exam page to see all relevant updates.
Nancy Tandy has also done this excellent article over on the Microsoft Learn Blog, which is well worth a read and provides some information on how you can set up a trial of Dynamics 365 Customer Insights.
I’ve been hearing a lot of buzz regarding Dynamics 365 Customer Insights lately on the grapevine. Indeed, from what I understand, many larger enterprise customers are starting to adopt the solution with some enthusiasm and, rather interestingly, organisations and partners who previously have not worked with any of the Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement applications or the Power Platform. With this kind of momentum, it’s perhaps unsurprising that Microsoft now needs to formalise a lot of the learning content for the product so that organisations can get appropriately trained to implement and maintain this product once deployed. What will be interesting to see is whether or not we will see other Speciality certifications emerge in the future. There are a lot of areas across the Business Application stack that could benefit from having a real deep dive exam, such as Power Automate. TThe success of MB-260, in terms of number of times the exam is sat (i.e. the financial benefit 🤑), will likely determine the future direction. But I’d bet good money on there being at least a few more Business Applications Speciality exams, similar to MB-260, in the months and years ahead.