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The State of Multi-Data-Domain Master Data Management (MDM)

Blog by Philip Russom
Research Director for Data Management, TDWI

Allow me a moment to parachute into the middle of an issue that’s come up a lot this calendar year, namely multi-data-domain master data management (MDM). I assume you are familiar with MDM; if not, spend a few minutes on Wikipedia.

The issue is that most user organizations deploy single-domain MDM solutions. The most popular data domain is customer data, but other common domains for MDM are (in priority order) financials, products, partners, employees, and locations.

Here’s the problem with single-data-domain MDM. It’s a barrier to having common, consensus-based entity definitions and standard reference data that would allow you to correlate information across multiple domains. For example, single-domain MDM is great for creating a single view of customers. But it needs to federate or somehow integrate with MDM for the product-data domain, if you want to extend that view to include (with a high level of accuracy and consistency) products and services that each customer has acquired or considered. Or you might include financial or location data. Some day, you’ll include data from social media. All this is easier and more accurate with multi-data-domain MDM.

The examples probably sound analytic to you, but they’re equally applicable to operations. And multi-data-domain MDM can improve lots of data management functions, like analytics, identity resolution, customer intimacy, data quality, data integration, deduplication, and sharing data across disparate departments and their IT systems.

I wish it weren’t true, but I still see most MDM solutions as focused on the customer data domain -- and that’s all. If MDM addresses other domains -- typically financial or product data -- that’s done in a separate solution, with little or integration with MDM for customer data. Some user organizations have multiple customer-focused MDM solutions, say one each for marketing analytics, direct marketing, sales pipeline, customer service, and so on. So much for a single view of the customer! These organizations have their hands full consolidating customer-data-domain MDM solutions, and that delays the next step, which is multi-data-domain MDM.

Despite these dire situations, I’ve also encountered user organizations that have successfully extended MDM to span multiple data domains. And some of these spoke at TDWI’s Solution Summit on Master Data in March 2011. For example, Cathy Burrows from Royal Bank of Canada explained how they consolidated multiple MDM solutions to create a single, central, and governed MDM solution that provides a rich, accurate, and even intimate view of each customer. They’re now enriching customer views with reference data about the products these customers have.

As another example, Mark Love of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) talked about how the VHA started with a form of MDM for patient identity, then branched out into many other domains. To keep the domaines straight and to leverage hierarchical relations among domains, the VHA created a “master set of domains.”

I got to thinking about all this because, just yesterday, I was talking about multi-data-domain MDM with Ravi Shankar of Informatica. “Most of our recent MDM deals are multi-domain,” he said. Ravi talked through a list of Informatica customers who have multi-data-domain MDM in production today. I can’t tell you the customer names, but they’re in banking, high-tech manufacturing, food services, and government agencies. All began with one domain, then extended to others. Also, all deployed MDM in combination with their data integration and/or data quality solutions, which shows how MDM is interrelated with other data management disciplines. The list Ravi shared with me gives me confidence that more and more user organizations are succeeding with multi-data-domain MDM – and that’s a good thing.

But the future of multi-data-domain MDM isn’t totally rosy. At TDWI’s Solution Summit on Master Data in March 2011, we also heard from Evan Levy of Baseline Consulting (recently acquired by DataFlux). He said: “Multi-data-domain MDM is technically feasible today. But it makes no sense in terms of sponsorship, funding, or satisfying departmental and application-specific requirements.”

I agree with Evan’s second point wholeheartedly, because a number of users have explained to me over the years that sales and marketing need to own customer-data-domain MDM, even if it’s only applied within their customer-base segmentation, direct marketing, and sales contact applications. Likewise, the supply chain managers want to fund and control product and partner reference data. The financial guys have their own requirements for financial data, and HR has MDM requirements for employee data. All too often, these departments aren’t too keen on sharing.

But I don’t fully agree with Evan’s first point. I think there ARE situations where multi-data-domain MDM makes perfect sense, and I noted those earlier in this blog. In my experience, a common tipping point is often when technical and business people have reached maturity with customer-data MDM, and they realize they can’t get to the next level without consistent and integrated MDM about other domains.

Another way to put it is that the single view of the customer gets broader as it matures, thus demanding information from other domains. Yet another way to think of it is that multi-data-domain MDM often comes in a later life cycle stage, after single-data-domain MDM has proved the concept of MDM, in general. And much of the success of multi-data-domain MDM -- in my opinion -- is not about technology. Success depends on having a corporate culture that demands data sharing in support of cross-functional coordination.

So, folks, what do you think about the state of multi-data-domain MDM? Let me know. Thanks!

(Note that TDWI will repeat (for the fourth year) its Solution Summit on Master Data, Quality, and Governance, coming up March 4-6, 2012 in Savannah, Georgia. Mark your calendar!)

Posted by Philip Russom, Ph.D. on August 24, 2011


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