Getting started with master data management: Think big, start small

Enterprise MDM software is no silver bullet

Poor data quality is the unintended consequence of data silos and a lack of data and analytics governance. It results in suboptimal decision making and poor organisational performance.

This prompts many organisations to explore master data management (MDM) with the promise of creating an enterprise-wide trusted view of their critical data, whether it be related to customers, citizens, employees, patients or products.

Enterprise MDM software, however, is no silver bullet. Gartner fields many client enquiries on resolving data quality, data integration and associated governance issues — how to create a single, trusted, 360-degree view of the customer, for example.

Technology alone is insufficient to solve the bigger problem of data and analytics governance, which traverses people, process and technology across the enterprise.

Failure will follow those who underestimate the complexity, cost and level of cross-organisation collaboration required to ensure a successful program.

Before embarking upon an MDM program, take a step back to validate what data matters most to your organisation and whether it’s the best approach to the current problem. MDM can certainly rise to the challenge of data quality and governance problems, but is your organisation ready?

Assess organisational readiness

MDM is about governance and maintaining a single trusted version of core data across the enterprise in support mission-critical priorities. Individual users, departments and business units can use this common trusted and centrally governed version as a basis for better business decisions in lieu of using their own data, which often leads to conflicting conclusions.

Beyond decision making, MDM is central to an organisation’s ability to transform. Consider this in the context of a single view of the customer and your organisation’s ability to improve customer satisfaction, retention and value through better aggregated and trusted insights. This is just one example, but it requires a level of cross-enterprise collaboration in terms of data sharing and data governance.

The primary reason MDM initiatives fail is the lack of attention to assessing and ensuring organisational readiness before starting a project. Also, confusing what is and isn’t master data makes a huge difference. Too many organisations assume all data is equal and therefore must be master data. But this isn’t the case.

An MDM program demands more than just the implementation of technology — challenges extend to political and organisational silos. Be realistic about organisational readiness to adopt an enterprise MDM solution by assessing culture, data-driven maturity and the right level of executive support required to facilitate cross-organisational collaboration.

Is MDM the rightsized response?

The promise of MDM is attractive from a technologist perspective — breaking down data silos, reconciling conflicting data, establishing ongoing governance — and often IT. But it’s not an out-of-the-box solution that can be led by IT in isolation.

Organisations that adopt enterprise MDM to resolve a simpler technical problem incur unnecessary complexity and expense, particularly where executive sponsorship, agreed business goals and stakeholder buy-in are lacking.

Establish whether MDM is the right response to the problem by assessing whether it’s a technology problem at all. Look at whether the solution may be re-engineering of existing business process or better governance practices. Also assess the viability of simpler solutions, including customer data platforms.

Evaluate enabling technology choices and architectures by comparing their advantages and limitations against strategic goals and organisational impact to rightsize the response. In the absence of confidence in organisational readiness to adopt enterprise MDM now, the best fit is a rightsized response supportive of a longer-term vision.

It’s likely that an MDM program will be required at some point to enable digital transformation. When done correctly, it offers the biggest reward, but requires the biggest effort.

Keep the big prize in mind

MDM is often thought to be too big, too complex and only for large organisations. As always, there’s some truth to the concept. Regardless of when and how you approach it, MDM is inevitable. It’s shifting from a defensive proposition to an offensive one with cross-enterprise access to consistent and trusted core data, fast becoming a strategic necessity for digital business.

Consider the rewards. Improved lead times to launch new products and synchronisation of product and location data across supply chain processes to support customer service, returns and logistics. Improved business operations from more effective decision making, facilitated by accurate reporting and analytics. A shared, trusted, single view of customer data leveraged by all processes for marketing, sales and service purposes for a more customer-centric experience.

Whether or not your business is ready, start to lay the foundation for a successful enterprise-wide MDM program now by creating a future-state vision and adopting a stepwise, programmatic approach. Start small and grow over time. Shared and trusted master data is key to digital business success.

Sally Parker is a senior director analyst at Gartner. She focuses on best practices on data and analytics governance, fostering a data-driven culture, data & analytics strategies and MDM. Sally will be presenting on this topic at the upcoming Gartner Data & Analytics Summit in Sydney, 17-18 February.

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