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LESSON - Master Data Management Isn’t for Everyone: How to Evaluate Readiness

By Daniel Teachey, Senior Director of Marketing, DataFlux

Since the days when the first computer spit out data from its miles of wires and labyrinths of vacuum tubes, the euphoria (begone, slide rule!) has been replaced by a feeling of dread. What happened when you plugged in the next UNIVAC in an adjacent building? How could you reconcile the series of 1s and 0s from one computer when you had another stream of data coming from the next one? While times have certainly changed, the problem of disconnected data has not. In fact, it is now at a crisis level in many organizations.

Barely a week goes by without a story that ultimately involves a data management problem. A healthcare company gets fined for processing fraudulent transactions. A bank wakes up to a public relations nightmare by foreclosing on a house that wasn’t actually eligible for foreclosure. These are all problems caused by multiple, disparate views of data.

In the past decade, the de rigueur technology for every information quality problem has been master data management (MDM). Vendors have presented MDM as the cureall for all data-driven ills. Unfortunately, the hype has smothered a dirty little truth—the issues with “multiple versions of the truth” were supposed to be reconciled by data warehouses, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, and customer relationship management (CRM). MDM takes that abstraction to a cross-functional level, but the general focus is the same: to create a single, unified view of a data entity.

However, there is notable weariness in the general market. At a recent trade show, several attendees rolled their eyes at the mere mention of MDM. One disenchanted IT veteran asked, “If it’s so great, where are the success stories? Where is the nirvana?” As the MDM market enters a phase of considerable skepticism, how does one go forward with these programs? The answer lies in focusing on what MDM is—not what it’s perceived to be.

First, figure out if MDM is what you need, or if another initiative will suffice. If your data management challenges are more finite, or if you have a smaller number of applications within the organization, MDM might be overkill for your situation. There are other ways to achieve a “single view” outside of MDM. Creating a reference data “lookup” or migrating other data to an existing CRM or ERP system can achieve many of the goals of MDM—without the costs.

Realize that MDM is not a technology but a shift in mindset. After embarking on an MDM deployment, people soon understand that technology is not the most difficult element. It’s the countless meetings, often accompanied by turf wars and political skullduggery, that result from unifying systems. Seemingly easy questions such as “How do we define a customer?” can be subject to a dozen different interpretations based on one’s position in an organization. Recognize at the outset that MDM is a marathon, not a sprint.

With this in mind, structure your MDM program to deliver results as soon as possible. Few executives have the time or the patience to give a project five years to pay off. The good news is that MDM projects can yield some immediate results. Having a sound data governance program in place is critical to move forward in an MDM deployment, and creating one will involve establishing business rules to help an organization refine processes and mitigate risks in short order.

Finally, don’t try to boil the ocean, or whatever metaphor applies here. In the same spirit as the previous point, it’s imperative that you start an MDM program with an eye toward a more immediate value. For example, a company that does pharmaceutical clinical trials realized that its data pain was the inability to review results across projects, physicians, and other variables. For three years, the company worked at the application level to install and manage the business rules identified in their data governance program. When it was time to move to a true MDM system, the backbone was already in place—and everything went more smoothly than expected.

This article originally appeared in the issue of .

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