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!
Links:
• 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

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