How Does Technology Enable Effective MDM?

Part 3 of a six-part series on the “New Age of Master Data Management”

by Julie Hunt

No Room for “Tech for Tech’s Sake”

Many organizations have routinely made technology purchases based solely on the predilections of IT groups. This approach to technology decisions has often proven to be a limited path in terms of providing the technology infrastructure imperative for business needs in today’s world, one that has become faster and more complex for many organizations. More organizations are now working to better connect business requirements and strategies to the selection of technologies. After all, most of these technologies should tie directly to the core aspirations and strategies of the company and provide beneficial means for improvement, even changing how the organization does business. That said, the selection of technologies still requires serious input from technical teams, particularly for integration and interoperability of systems, depending on the architectural strategy of the organization.

Frequently technology decisions must include many different stakeholders working together. This is especially the case for selecting the technologies for MDM initiatives that are meant to fully support numerous business objectives and functions. MDM is the “poster child” of the critical need for business strategy to meet and mingle with technology strategy. In a sense MDM technology is a conundrum. The technology should take a back seat to all of the non-technical activities, objectives and requirements for MDM implementations. But technology can also be a game-changing component of MDM initiatives.

The start of any MDM discussion should be core questions like “What data and analytics problems are you trying to solve?” — where “you” encompasses diverse stakeholders in the organization. One MDM imperative is to eliminate silos in the organization. Not just to eliminate silos for data repositories, systems and processes, but silos of people, objectives and functions.

Yin and Yang

How Technologies Improve MDM Effectiveness

Sometimes an examination of the relationship of technology to business needs becomes a “chicken and the egg” question: which came first? While technology definitely should be in the service of business requirements, innovative technologies can change how businesses operate. The reality is that many MDM activities couldn’t be accomplished without the right software technology. My previous post on new approaches should communicate clear implications that technologies are very important to the successful execution of “new age” MDM initiatives.

Vendors are transforming MDM offerings, old and new, to better serve organizations and their business objectives. We are seeing more vendors incorporating business realities into their technology platforms. Newer iterations of MDM solutions have expanded access for roles in business and technical groups. Several MDM offerings concentrate on ways to speed up implementations, and provide templates for quickly “test driving” projects, to demonstrate in shorter time frames that MDM does work and can make a difference.

Just like everything else “data”, real time access to continuously updated master data is increasingly important. The variety of data needed for master data processing continues to grow. And more organizations need multidomain and multivector data to derive the data connections and context necessary for relevant insight for complex business conditions. Most MDM software solutions have sophisticated capabilities to collect, process, create connections and relationships, and provide context for increasingly difficult data sources.

To do a better job of deriving different aspects of context, MDM solutions now include graph repositories, visualizations, and analytics capabilities. Business cases are often the starting point for contextual explorations of data. Different technologies generate data views in response to business needs and objectives. An initiative like improving the customer experience will cross all data repositories and then travel beyond organizational data to include customer behavioral and social information from sources outside the firewall. “New Age” MDM solutions must be able to handle all of this.

Businesses are finding that various MDM capabilities are effective for connecting real business impact to MDM activities, better aligning MDM metrics to business outcomes and goals. Further alignment comes through data governance processes that track the compliance of master data to governance policies, again with an over-arching connection to the outcomes and goals that are achieved (in the context of the MDM contribution). A more effective – and real – assessment can be conducted to show the value of MDM and data governance where it matters.

Meeting Business Needs: MDM Platform Overhaul

A well-known data management and analytics vendor spent the past few years revamping and simplifying its MDM software platform. Basically the vendor looked at what MDM can accomplish from the perspective of business use cases and how to increase the business value of MDM. The framework provided by the platform starts with the desired end state (usually business-related) to ensure that the MDM project will deliver what is needed to support business requirements. The framework also enables the participation of business roles to bring in their extensive knowledge to accelerate the development of MDM processes.

Various teams will then work back from the end state to build all that is needed to attain it. The platform helps these teams create the models that achieve a particular end result, and then automatically generates the processes that will carry out the appropriate MDM tasks, as extensions of the models. Reusability is well-supported both for the creation of services and the utilization of pre-built components, and through an iterative development framework. The purpose of this new approach is to shorten and automate as much of each implementation or project as possible, while creating powerful MDM components.

With this new platform, departments within larger organizations can also initiate their own MDM efforts. The MDM solution provides capabilities to prevent master data silos and to map department-level master data into higher organizational levels. Any work done has to map into existing practices and processes for data governance, data quality, and other centralized data management functions, which obviously provide a fail-safe.

How Cloud is Changing MDM

Cloud has had a tremendous impact on every software category. Many technology solutions are now exclusively developed for the cloud. Adoption of cloud-based MDM or MDM-as-a-Service is on the rise, opening up new dimensions for how organizations take advantage of MDM and data governance.

Access for different user roles improves with cloud-based MDM services.

MDM often has to provide solutions for complex business problems. These days the technologies of cloud services are well able to support sophisticated software solutions that are capability-rich. The key word is sophisticated, meaning smoothly-performing software made possible by thoughtful design that enables the right experiences for diverse users.

Cloud platforms for data and application integration have proliferated greatly, many of which are cloud natives. Vendors for cloud-based integration solutions have shown clearly how to address sophisticated requirements for security; connectivity; movement and management of data between cloud and on-premises as well as cloud to cloud; and well-managed services. These vendors also offer a range of pricing models that should be helpful to vendors developing cloud-based MDM.

Cloud-based MDM solutions can also open the door to MDM usage by mid-sized organizations. This usage can come from more affordable offerings that streamline MDM activities. Or such usage can come from managed services providers (MSPs) who can bring both MDM expertise and pre-built services tailored to the needs and budgets of mid-sized organizations. Cloud-based MDM solutions enable MSPs to quickly develop services that can be reused by different organizations.

Different Stakeholders Working Together

MDM and data governance activities usually involve diverse stakeholders from both the business and technology camps in an organization. While many of these activities are non-technical, capabilities in MDM solutions can help manage, store and coordinate such activities. Well-constructed role-based access to software solutions can protect and guide less technical users in the tasks they need to complete for MDM initiatives.

When organizations recognize the importance of all stakeholders, they can then do a better job of selecting MDM technologies that will meet the needs of all end users, not just the highly technical ones.

If a company is buying software technology to improve performance and competitiveness, then the company had better focus on key contributors to success: empowered end users who deserve to have highly quality reliable tools to carry out the work of the company, without wasting a lot of time each day on software that is difficult to use and doesn’t meet requirements.

Several MDM solutions support different kinds of collaboration between stakeholders, including interactive work. In a way, data governance has been a strong trail-blazer for technology solutions that better serve different roles and the interaction that needs to take place between different users. For example, intelligent workflow structures are strong technology tools for empowering and enabling improved collaboration and communication.

One of the major challenges to overcome is the difficulty of orchestrating many different teams to work as one. On the technology side, harmonizing and automating MDM activities require strong orchestration capabilities, considering all of the moving pieces that can be in play. The same applies to the non-technical aspects of MDM initiatives, with the added “difficulty” of orchestrating diverse humans.

MDM: Always a Holistic Venture

The increasingly complex strategic and tactical needs of organizations have put more focus on the value and benefits of master data management. MDM is a core function for trusted data and more efficient business processes, which are must-haves for most organizations. A successful MDM initiative comprises a holistic endeavor to provide strategic organizational and infrastructure change, as well as manage complex data processing. Part of MDM holism is the intertwining of business, people and technology in the most effective mix possible.

There is a wide range of MDM technologies available to organizations. This variability of MDM and data governance offerings should again drive home the critical point that MDM initiatives must start with thorough strategy design and development of the non-technology aspects of what MDM should accomplish for the organization. The strategic framework then provides the key elements that should guide organizations to select the best-fit MDM technologies.

MDM technologies are evolving to better support modern MDM requirements — but “traditional” MDM software solutions still abound. These are increasingly unwieldy platforms that aren’t able to handle many of the new approaches to MDM. On the other hand, several vendors that have offered traditional MDM solutions in the past now have revamped their offerings to better support new approaches. And, of course, there are new vendors with new MDM solutions that are often cloud native technologies and offer new ways to address MDM and data governance.

Stand-alone solutions for PIM (Product Information Management) and CDI (Customer Data Integration) are still part of the mix, especially for organizations not considering a comprehensive MDM initiative. PIM in particular is offered by several vendors, with specialized products for industries like retail and e-commerce. PIM solutions can be sharply business-oriented, providing broader native access to business users.

Organizations must be prepared to develop a well-structured MDM vision that addresses not only how business is done today, but what organizations want to accomplish further down the road. Such a vision will better inform which technologies are the best investments to enable effective MDM.

Image source: feng-shui

Julie Hunt is the editor of Hub Designs Magazine and co-founder of the Hub Designs MDM Think Tank. Her “day job” is as an independent B2B software industry solution strategist and analyst. She provides consulting services for vendors to help develop successful strategies for buyers, customer and user experiences, solutions, go-to-market, and future direction.

 

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