Master Data Management: sources and insights

Tomorrow I will be facilitating my last Corporate IT Forum event. After five years or so I’m standing down from the team, having valued the Forum first as a member and then, since my first retirement, being on the team. Tomorrow’s event is a webinar, presenting a member’s case study on their journey with Master Data Management (MDM).

There was a phase of my career when I was directly concerned with setting up what we’d now call Master Data for a global oil company. We were concerned to define the entities of interest to the enterprise. When systems (databases and the associated applications) were set up to hold live data and answer day to day or strategic questions, we wanted to avoid the confusions that could so easily arise. everyone thinks they know what a particular entity is. It ain’t necessarily that simple.

A couple of examples.

When we began the journey, we thought we’d start with a simple entity: Country. There are fewer than a couple of hundred countries in the world. We needed to know which country owned, licenced and taxed exploration and production. And everyone knows what a country is, don’t they?

Well, no. Just from our own still-almost-united islands: a simple question. Is Scotland (topically) a country? Is the Isle of Man? Is Jersey? In all those cases, there are some areas (e.g. foreign policy) where the effective answer is no; they are part of the single entity the United Kingdom. But in others (e.g. tax, legal systems, legislature) they are quite separate. And of course the list of countries is not immutable.

So: no single definitive list of countries. No standard list of representative codes either: again, do we use GB? or UK? Do we use international vehicle country codes, or Internet domain codes, or … What codes would be used in data coming in from outside? And finally: could we find an agreed person or function within the Company who would take responsibility for managing and maintaining this dataset, and whose decisions would be accepted by everyone with an interest and their own opinions.

And talking of data coming in from outside: I carried out a reconciliation exercise between two external sources of data on exploration activities in the UK North Sea. You’d think that would be quite well defined: the geological provinces, the licence blocks, the estimates of reserves and so on. record keeping in the UK would surely be up to the game.

But no: the two sources didn’t even agree on the names and definitions of the reservoirs. Bringing the data from these sources together was going to be a non-trivial task requiring geological and commercial expertise.

Then again, we went through a merger and discovered that two companies could allocate responsibility for entities (and for the data which represented them) quite differently within their organisations.

So: this is a well developed topic in information systems. Go back to a Forrester blog in 2012: analyst Michelle Goetz maintains forcefully that MDM is not about providing (in some IT-magic way) a Single Source of Truth. There ain’t no such animal. MDM is a fundamental tool for reconciling different data sources, so that the business can answer useful questions without being confused by different people who think they are talking about the same thing but aren’t, really.

It may be a two year old post, but it’s still relevant, and Michele Goetz is still one of Forrester’s lead analysts in this area. Forrester’s first-ever Wave for MDM solutions came out in February this year. It’s downloadable from some of the leading vendors (such as SAP or Informatica). There’s also a recent Wave on Product Information Management which is tagged “MDM in business terms”, and might be worth a look too. Browse for some of the other stuff.

Gartner have a toolkit of resources. Their famed Magic Quadrant exists in multiple versions e.g. for Product information and for Customer Data. I’d be unsure how the principles of MDM vary between domains so (without studying the reports) I’m not clear why the separation. You might do better with the MDM overview, which also dates from 2012. You will find RFP templates, a risk framework, and market guides. Bill O’Kane and Marcus Collins are key names. For Gartner subscribers, a good browse and an analyst call will be worthwhile.

Browse more widely too. Just one caution: MDM these days also means Mobile Device Management. Don’t get confused!
• Master Data Management Does Not Equal The Single Source Of Truth, Michele Goetz, Forrester blog, 26 Oct 2012
• The Forrester Wave™: Master Data Management Solutions, Q1 2014, 3 Feb 2014 (download from Informatica, link at foot of page
• PIM: MDM on Business Terms, Michele Goetz, 6 Jun 2014
• Master Data Management, Marcus Collins, Gartner, 9 Jul 2012

Benefits realisation: analyst insight

I’m facilitating an event tomorrow on “Optimising the benefits life cycle”. So as always I undertook my own prior research to see what the mainstream analysts have to offer.

Forrester was a disappointment. “Benefits Realization” (with a z) turns up quite a lot, but the research is primarily labelled “Lead to Revenue Management” – that is, it’s about sales. There is some material on the wider topic, but it dates back several years or longer. Though it’s always relevant to remember Forrester’s elevator project pitch from Chuck Gliedman: We are doing A to make B better, as measured by C, which is worth X dollars (pounds, euros …) to the organisation.

There is a lot of material from both academic researchers and organisations like PMI (Project Management Institute). But in the IT insight market, there seems to be remarkably little (do correct me …) except that the Corporate IT Forum, where I’ll be tomorrow, has returned to the issue regularly. Tomorrow’s event is the latest in the series. The Forum members clearly see this as important.

But so far as external material is concerned, this blog turns into a plug for a recent Gartner webinar by Richard Hunter, who (a fair number of years ago) added considerable value to an internal IT presentation I delivered on emerging technologies for our enterprise. I’m not going to review the whole presentation because it’s on open access from Gartner’s On Demand webinars. But to someone who experienced the measurement-oriented focus of a Six-Sigma driven IT team, it’s not a real surprise that Richard’s key theme is to identify and express the benefits before you start: in business terms, not technology-oriented language, and with an expectation that you will know how to measure and harvest the benefits. It’s not about on-time-on-budget; it’s about the business outcome. Shortening a process cycle from days to hours; reducing the provision for returns; and so on.

If this is your topic, spend an hour reviewing Richard’s presentation (complete with family dog in the background). It will be time well spent.

• Getting to Benefits Realization: What to Do and When to Do It, Richard Hunter, Gartner, 7 Aug 2014 (go to Gartner Webinars and search for Benefits Realization)
• Corporate IT Forum: Optimising the Benefits Lifecycle (workshop, 16 Sep 2014)

Analyst Directory update

It’s a long time since the InformationSpan blog index has been updated – not since February. To be fair, I had a look in May but there were too few changes to be significant. However, there’s now enough to report, and the index has been thoroughly reviewed and updated.

First, Gartner: a handful of new analysts have appeared. The main comments, though, relate to past acquisitions.

I’ve finally removed almost all references to AMR, but in true Gartner fashion there are some inconsistencies. If you look on Gartner’s Research marketing page, there is of course Gartner for Supply Chain Professionals, created out of the former AMR service. All traces of AMR seem to have disappeared until you look also at the Gartner for Enterprise Supply Chain Leaders service. The flyer for this service is headed “AMR Enterprise Supply Chain Leaders” and is replete with references to AMR services. It’s dated 2010, just after the acquisition; but it’s still on the system. I did not find any other reference to a service called Gartner for Enterprise Supply Chain Leaders.

Burton service have also been fully absorbed; most of the Burton analysts have left, the IT1 tag also seems to have disappeared, and one of the remaining accessible legacy blogs has moved to inaccessible. However, six Burton blogs can still be found and I’ve discovered there are also TypePad profiles linked to them. There’s also still one accessible (but moribund) Gartner IT1 blog, and a fair sprinkling (as always) of blogs left over from other analysts who have left.

There have been more changes to the Forrester page. First, perhaps most significantly: Forrester seem to have shed their Business Technology tag. It was a good one, but didn’t catch on; and I suppose George Colony has decided to go with the market. These services are now referred to as Technology Management.

There have, too, been some changes within Forrester’s categories. Business Process and Content & Collaboration seem to have become moribund (no new content for over two years), and there remain a number of still-extant blog names which redirect somewhere else (and have done so for some time). Interestingly, within the Marketing & Product Strategy group, there’s a blog which had been dormant since 2008 but Consumer Product Strategy has acquired a new posting recently. Forrester seem better than Gartner at tidying up when analysts leave, but there are three or four still-extant blogs from departed analysts.

I reviewed the Others page too. I haven’t added any new analyst sources (suggestions??) but Erica and Sam Driver’s ThinkBalm content has now been lost. Charlene Li’s Altimeter group now has a fully integrated blog section within the main website (not new, but I haven’t noted it before) as well as personal blogs maintained by Charlene herself and some colleagues. I have, though, included Euan Semple’s The Obvious which offers so many of us great insights and ideas. If George Colony hadn’t already grabbed Counterintuitive as his blog title, it would be a good alternative for Euan!

No Links here, but click the link at the head or right hand side of this blog to go to the InformationSpan Analyst Blogs Index.

Dark Web: good, bad, or amoral?

Last night I watched BBC’s Horizon programme reviewing the history and impact of what’s become known as the Dark Web. Here seems to be the scenario.

In the beginning, was the Internet. In the early days of the Web I wrote a strategic report for my company which triggered the adoption of web technology and internet email. One of the things I pointed out was that, in the precursors such as newsgroups, no-one was anonymous. Traffic has identifiers or, at least, IP addresses attached to it. People know who you are, and your company’s reputation hinges on your behaviour online. As the Internet of Things expands, the amount of information about individuals that can be analysed out of internet traffic expands exponentially with it.

Governments, particularly the US, recognised the potential for compromising security and the response was TOR (The Onion Router network) which passed traffic through a number of nodes to disguise its origin. The project moved to Open Source and has become widely used in response to the growing levels of surveillance of internet traffic, revealed most notably of course by Edward Snowden. Wikileaks uses TOR to facilitate anonymous contributions: it wasn’t tracking which identified Snowden, or Manning. It has been used extensively in recent events in the Middle East.

So at this point, governments are trying to put the genie back in the bottle: they invented TOR, but they don’t like it being used to hide information from them. Moreover, it is being used for criminal transactions on a substantial scale: and at this point Bitcoin becomes part of the picture, because (unlike conventionally banked money) it too is not inherently traceable.

There’s no firm conclusion drawn in the programme, and surely that’s right. Technology of this kind isn’t inherently good or bad: it is, in the strict sense of the word, amoral. But the uses people make of it, as with almost any technology, are not amoral. And the programme raises strong issues about the balance of privacy and security, both in their widest senses. The sources used are strong and reputable: Oxford University’s Internet Institute; Julia Angwin, an established technology researcher and writer, key individuals in the development of these technologies, Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, and not least Tim Berners-Lee who admits to having been perhaps naive in his early assessment of these issues.

While it’s still on iPlayer, it’s worth a watch.

• Inside the Dark Web, BBC Horizon, 3 Sep 2014 (available on iPlayer in the UK until 15 Sep)
• Tor Project online, and Wikipedia article
• Oxford Internet Institute
• Julia Angwin