The Storm Before The Calm

The Storm Before The Calm: a Semantic Change in the Master Data Management Landscape, by Dan Power

The Semantics of Hype

Lately, it seems like the master data management space has been inundated with terms such as “Big Data” and “Cloud”. Sometimes, I think that every other tweet I see has a hash tag of #Cloud or #BigData, and the Q&A section of several webinars I attended recently had several questions on those topics.

It’s similar to fashion, and how journalists treat trends. It seems that “blue is the new black” could be translated into “Big Data is the new master data” or “Cloud is the new Hub”.

These are trigger words; they sell magazines and generate ‘likes’ and ‘follows’. But what do they mean for business, specifically in the area of information management?

Recently, an analyst for Forrester made the statement that Business Process Management (BPM) and Master Data Management (MDM) need to merge. If this is true, then we, as information management professionals need to respond or make changes to our own business so we can move forward and operate in a new capacity if needed.

But name changes are easy – process or systems changes are more complex. On the surface, it may seem that this is simply a semantic change. When you dig deeper, you’ll find that Big Data has the same DNA as “small data”, just with more complexities and nuances to manage.

Corporate America has been hoarding data for a long time. There’s so much data out there to wrangle, mangle, manage, delete, make obsolete, streamline and digitize that the information management industry is probably the fastest growing and most lucrative from a growth perspective. Figuring out solutions to data problems will keep consultants and IT people engaged for a long time. As technology advances, our job becomes a bit easier, to be sure, but establishing the framework and client education will continue to be key factors in successful data management and governance.

However, one word in front of data changes the whole landscape. Now that it is classified as “big”, well, what does that mean? For journalists, it means more clicks; for large enterprises, it may mean bigger consulting fees and for master data management professionals, it should mean we’ll be gainfully employed for the next ten years.

The thing about hype is, like the cliché snowball rolling down the mountain, it gets bigger and picks up speed before its journey ends. From our perspective, the snowball is not even halfway down the mountain.

As someone who consults with companies, provides solutions for information management and hears from the front lines – from senior management to individual IT implementers – the hype has reached a fever pitch. Avoidance is no longer an option, so my advice is to confront the hype head on.

Consultants play many roles in business, with “teacher” being the most common. We need to define the substance of the hype for our clients, offer useful perspectives, and then guide them through the semantic changes and confusion that often surrounds media hype.

Historically, there are some common denominators in business change. In fashion, for instance, predictive indicators are found 12-18 months prior to the release of the Pantone color of the year (Marsala is the hue of 2015, by the way), which turns into a swatch of fabric that covers a sinewy body on a runway in Milan at the end of February, which will no doubt end up on a rack at your local Target 18 months later.

In business, the cycle occurs in various forms, whether it’s analysts using tools to measure stock performance, the price of oil, political climates, Warren Buffet devotees regurgitating his market moves, or venture capitalists making the rounds in the Valley. There’s a method to the madness and hype has a legitimate place in business.

As a professional, you’d have to be naive to ignore the impact of social media and big data on business. Cloud is another bit of hype on which you’d be well advised to become educated. The face of business is changing.

Look at how business is conducted now versus a century ago. Then, look at the past five to ten years. We’re a mobile society, and that is perhaps the key factor in the cloud hype. We conduct business 24 hours a day – not just in an office at a personal computer for 8 hours.

Social and Mobile — the snowball rolling down the hill is social and mobile and white (like a cloud). See the connection?

Journalists are always after the “NBT” – the next big thing. They want to sell stories, or rather their bosses want them to sell stories. In fact, they want their nuggets to go viral, a sure indicator of success that drives traffic back to their site and generates business.

In the data world, there are many similarities. If we look at the master data management landscape, there aren’t too many changes in the underlying processes. The basic concept of how we govern data remains the same; it is an equation. Here is your problem; here is your fix.

The tools have gotten better, of course. But the problems have gotten more complex. Data was once confined to on-premises relational databases, but now the “data wranglers” have to deal with more data, including mobile devices and data residing in a far-off cloud. Obviously, this introduces a lot of new information security issues.

Not to mention the “hack-athon” that’s been taking place lately, with Sony Pictures, Anthem, Home Depot, JP Morgan Chase, eBay, and Target recently joining the ranks of victims – alongside of high profile news providers like the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times.

Old solutions don’t work for new problems. We can corral your data, edit it, streamline it, make you more efficient, reduce staff, and get you on a new platform quicker than five years ago.

Technology journalists are like Chicken Little, threatening that Big Data and Cloud Computing are the modern version of the “sky”. Although it may not be falling per se, it’s proving to be another hurdle that we, as consultants and strategists, now have to manage.

But to manage the hype you have to measure it. You have to look at the big picture – the forest, not the trees. The people most frantic about “Big Data” are the companies that did not get on the MDM bandwagon “back in the day”. Now, their small problems are becoming big problems and CEOs are finally listening to CIOs when they tell them that yes, in fact, their sky is falling.

The good news for us is that companies are realizing the value of investing in information management and are starting to include these line items in their budgets.

What you should know about the future of information management:

  1. Will the term Master Data Management become obsolete and be absorbed into Business Process Management (BPM) as some industry professionals are predicting? In my opinion, no – but BPM will be more important than ever in implementing MDM.
  2. What role will the Cloud play in how data management is implemented? We’re starting to see more and more established vendors offering a cloud-based version of their offering, and some newer MDM providers are exclusively focusing on the cloud.
  3. What to tell companies that weren’t ‘early adopters’ and are now realizing their data problems may actually be classified as “Big Data”? Start with some small, targeted projects to solve a single “pain point” and expand from there, watching the return on investment along the way.
  4. What role will mobile play in the modern corporate environment and what are the security implications of mobile vs. old school access? Mobile is becoming a hugely important part of our lives, with smartphones representing 71% of the global mobile phone market in 2014. Companies need to focus on providing high quality information and solutions, and worry less about managing devices. But security concerns do have to be factored into the new “app” world.
  5. Rank Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ in order of importance. Which social media channels are most relevant to big business? Facebook still dominates at 56% of all social media visits, with YouTube at 21%, Google Plus at 3.9%, Twitter at 2.3%, LinkedIn at 1.3%, Instagram at 1.1% and Pinterest at 1.1%. Based on this, I’d advise businesses to have a strong Facebook and YouTube strategy, focus on listening to their customer base on Google Plus and Twitter, and keep an eye on growing sites such as LinkedIn, Pinterest and Instagram.

Frantic Semantics

There’s a lot of hype on “Big Data” because a small number of companies are realizing significant benefits. But we’re still pretty early in what Gartner likes to call the “hype cycle” or the “early adopter” stage of the technology adoption life cycle.

So is “Big Data” the sky in Chicken Little’s world, or is Cloud the sky? It’s hard to separate them completely, because most “Big Data” solutions are going to be delivered (at least in part) via the cloud.

So should you try to avoid the hype? Personally, I love it, because it lets me know that something interesting is happening.

About The Author

Dan Power is the Founder & President of Hub Designs, a global leader in developing and delivering high impact master data management (MDM) and data governance strategies. He’s the publisher of Hub Designs Magazine, one of the first online publications for the information governance industry, with over 4,000 regular readers. Dan has written over 35 articles and is a frequent keynote speaker at conferences and trade shows. To contact him, please visit

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One Comment on “The Storm Before The Calm”

  1. Ramon Chen 02/05/2015 at 8:04 pm #

    Nice article Dan as usual. As you know @Reltio we are taking the approach that it’s not about MDM, not about Big Data, but all about getting data-driven applications into the hands of end business users. In order to do this efficiently without sacrificing any of the disciplines of MDM and scalability of big data technologies, we must combine the best of all worlds. As you quite rightly point out, chasing the latest buzzwords doesn’t help business users do their job better, nor does it help IT better allocate their increasingly limited budget.

    Julie Hunt’s recent profile of Reltio last month gets to the heart of the matter when she concluded:

    “Business users can no longer stay arm’s length from data and analytics. The cost of creating, maintaining and utilizing trustworthy and consistent data, whether you call it ‘master data’ or ‘our business data’ has to be reduced so more businesses can take advantage of it. The same applies to implementation and maintenance requirements. Reltio is on the right track for solving the big problem of quickly putting analytics results in the hands of business people, to be used in new and innovative ways.”

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