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5 Practical Tips for a Master Data Management Solution

5 Practical Tips for a Master Data Management Solution

Master Data Management, strategy, Impact on business, business process management

By Vitaly Dubravin

Master Data Management (MDM) initiative can become a trampoline for the very successful CIO career. It helps to better align IT capabilities with the business needs and to build a solid foundation for the future corporate growth. Goals of the MDM solution are ambitious, but the output is very appealing for the business.

MDM implementation faces a lot of challenges down the bumpy road. The tips below will help you to make the ride smoother and avoid the unnecessary tensions.

Tip #1: Participation.

MDM project should never be 100% outsourced to the 3rd party vendor. It is a wide spread illusion that any IT project can be handed over to the provider, designed, implemented and returned back to the corporate IT.  This is wishful thinking in general and for MDM project in particular. MDM affects wide variety of the internal corporate processes and will have a significant impact on the way business is used to operate. MDM can only be implemented in a consensus between the corporate businesses, as well as the internal IT, on the new operation procedures. Any attempt to force businesses into the “right way of doing stuff” puts this project on the path to a disaster.

The level of participation may vary from phase to phase during project implementation. Businesses are more engaged at the beginning of the project, when the post-MDM corporate policies are defined and at the final stage when these rules are being deployed into daily operations. IT team has to be involved on all stages of the process, but requires maximum resource dedication in the middle, when most data reintegration takes place.

External vendor will bring domain expertise, implementation methodology and skilled people to make it happen faster. But what none of the vendors are able to do, is to know tiny, but very important, nuances of the business operations that made this corporation so successful. Only internal businesses can contribute this. And only internal IT can help to find the right data and explain why the data was used in a “such weird way” before.   All parties have to come together for a common good since “I’m too busy to attend” excuse have a devastative effect on the corporate prosperity in the future.

Tip #2: External Authority.

Corporate culture is predominantly defined by the source of revenue. Profit centers historically have more flexibility and authority for a reason.  Cost centers on the other end have very limited impact on the internal regulation if any at all. The IT department, as business enabling function, is considered a necessary expense and belongs to a cost center camp.  Some businesses are living in the fear of being an ”IT-driven organization” and it does not add credibility to the technology folks.

MDM project is historically considered an IT solution and is frequently initiated and promoted by the internal IT team. No wonder it is hard for IT to be an equal player at the table with businesses and to lead the MDM project implementation.

This is yet another reason to bring an external vendor for either a leadership or an advisory role. A vendor is not bound by “an unwritten code of conduct” and is able to deliver, when required, very unpleasant messages.   An external vendor implicitly gains the authority and is often granted an arbitrary function in the project related disagreements.  The vendor can also be blamed for all unpopular actions to be taken! This helps to preserve a corporate harmony.

Tip #3: Need vs. Can.

It is not uncommon to hear from the corporate IT executives the following statement:  “We are an XYZ-shop”. There are many XYZ systems deployed and XYZ sales execs and consultants are deeply integrated into daily corporate life. Some XYZs may offer a MDM software engine “for free” (= it was unintentionally bought as a part of the enterprise license). Others will do their best to convince you that any 3rd party tool will cost more and cannot be as well integrated with the XYZ systems on the floor as the XYZ MDM product.

Be smart. You do have more than just the XYZ-built systems on the floor and there is nothing wrong in looking for the alternatives. XYZ solution may coexist well with some XYZ systems, but not all of them and may or may not provide any integration capabilities to the non-XYZ components.

But most of all, this all absolutely irrelevant! Do not be trapped by the capabilities of any specific MDM product. You must first define what exactly you are trying to achieve, both from business and technology sides, what set of problems to address and only then try to compile an unbiased list of requirements for a MDM solution.  Stay away from a product driven solution. It only looks cheap, but the final implementation will not be very useful, since you will be thinking how to apply available product feature to your business problems instead if thinking how to address what business is really looking for.

Tip #4 The Cart Before The Horse.

Competition always stimulates business creativity and this creativity demands some new internal business processes. Here is when business process management (BPM) discipline comes into play. It is easily understandable by the business and rarely faces funding delays.  MDM is not so lucky and frequently enjoys the leftovers from the BPM project or postponed to the later time.

Is it really smart to build a luxury building on the swamp using shaky foundation of the old house that had nearly collapsed? This is what happens when MDM is ignored or postponed. Any new BPM system has to deal with the data inconsistency, ambiguity or redundancy inherited from the past. The BPM implementation team would have to unintentionally address some of the MDM problems, but only for the affected source systems and only to the level sufficient for the BPM implementation.

Such patching may temporarily suppress the problem, but does not impact the root cause of it. The problem will come back and will now hit both the legacy source and the newly designed BPM system. You may continue patching, but every time it will cost more and more.

MDM should always be started first to define the Data Governance rules, Metadata and legacy conversion procedures at least. Better results will be achieved when the BPM team deals with physical implementation of the Golden Record (The Master Data), not a paper-based MDM concept. This will help to minimize the BPM implementation rework and prevent surprise BPM outcomes in production.

Tip #5: Dura Lex Sed Lex (lat. “The law is harsh but it is the law”).

Corporate policies and habits can no longer remain at the pre-MDM state. Data Stewards should never be ignored or their actions be overridden by an executive decision.  It does not mean that stewards have the highest authority and will never be questioned.  Power players have to understand that every executive override may and likely will cost thousands of dollars in data cleaning efforts to deal with the generated mess at the end.

Well-designed MDM solution should have enough checks and balances to counter play a long-term impact of the devastative impulsive decisions and to prevent problems to become chronic. MDM works best and produces the most noticeable result on the plain game field when no one is exempt from governance policies and everyone has to obey the established rules.

These are 5 simple tips to remember when thinking about or trying to ignore data management situation in the company.  The tips should help to avoid common mistakes and to lead the MDM project to corporate success story instead of yet another IT failure.

(originally posted on CIO.com)

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  1. February 16, 2011 at 16:36

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