Now I may be showing my age here, but the rules of the BBC Radio 4 quiz show, Just a Minute, nicely summarise the problems driving Master Data Management (MDM). In the show, contestants triumphed when they were able to speak on a single topic like my favourite food for 60 seconds without hesitation, repetition or deviation – and win extra points for their sense of humour.
For MDM the topic is: how to author, maintain and reconcile data like customer accounts, product keys, supplier codes, employee ids etc.. The rules include how to ensure data is always: current and available, complete with no duplication, and consistently conforms to company policies – and sustain that for a little longer than 60 seconds. And every MDM practitioner must demonstrate a sense of humour because success rests on satisfying a very diverse community.
How diverse? A good proxy for estimating, say, the number of different lists you have of customers, is to count every transactional application and you won't be far off. That is because every application was built to run in isolation and so is self-sufficient in creating its own definitions, hierarchies, sets of relevant data fields, and update strategy for its master data. Add another 25% to account for different definition interpretations by business people, and for many organizations the total reaches several hundreds. So how do you take hundreds of lists and rationalise them all together?
As I look at how my past clients have tackled MDM I see a costly patchwork of bespoke applications, manual processes and written policies. The good news is that help is on the way as the business demands a solution. Corporate governance, customer intimacy, product lifecycle management, and many other business improvement strategies require what MDM promises as they span multiple applications and cross divisional, geographic, and enterprise boundaries.
The realisation of how critical MDM is becoming has caused considerable vendor activity. Some vendors are still at the marketing message stage, and others have tangible solutions. We have the big guns with their solutions, for example Oracle Customer Data Hub, SAP MDM, Siebel Customer Data Integration. IBM offers their infrastructure stack, suggesting that they see MDM as a middleware (IBM's definition thereof) solution. Also, new pure-play startups are emerging like Siperian, hybris and Purisma, 100% focused on addressing MDM; while other vendors like Kalido, Stratature, MetaMatrix and many data quality vendors are repositioning themselves to be players in this space.
Comparing and contrasting different vendor products against business requirements, it is not difficult to reach a strong hypothesis as to the right approach. I see centralisation of MDM as a must, but not taken to excess. What I mean by this is that there has to be a registry or directory where master data keys are managed and maintained, otherwise duplication and errors are bound to occur. However, the temptation to add more data to that central directory quickly weighs it down and morphs its function away to data warehouse land.
I think MDM can learn a lot from the creation of LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol). Rather than each application having to maintain its own userids and passwords, with LDAP all identities and access privileges can be maintained centrally with easy access and robust governance. Change the word security, when reading about LDAP directories, to customer, supplier, employee, product etc. and you have a foundation model for MDM management and deployment.
So is the vendor activity occurring because technology is now available to make it possible? The cynic in me says no. I believe it is the usual grab for market share, revenue, and account lock-in; oh, and to help businesses address a real pain point. Looking back in history, the 70s was all about hardware, the 80s about tools, and in the 90s applications were king. Now we are in the decade of integration, and to be king means to be at the nexus of integration. Without hesitation, or deviation, but at risk of repetition, I see MDM as being that nexus, and the vendor who owns MDM will be king of this decade.
I'll save my ideas on who that king might be for discussion in a later article as that discourse would definitely take more than Just a Minute.