How Mature are Master Data Management tools?

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Now that Master Data Management (MDM) technology has been around for nine or ten years, what is the state of play in the MDM tool market? Are they relatively mature, similar to BI or Portal technology, for example? Or are they still somewhat immature?

My contention would be the latter, unfortunately. In Gartner terms they are somewhere between the Peak of Inflated Expectations and the Trough of Disillusionment (my view not Gartner’s, read about the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Niche tools still proliferate, big vendor solutions immature

Although there has been a lot of consolidation in the MDM market place, niche solutions still proliferate and the mega-vendors (IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAP) have yet to attain anything like the level of dominance they exhibit in the BI market place. Although none of these vendors would admit as much, BI technology has now evolved to the point where there is a reasonable degree of product-set homogeneity, and buying decisions in this market are as likely to be motivated by non-functional factors as they are by who can produce the prettiest dashboards.

MDM business processes are immature

The supporting business processes around BI are extremely mature – businesses have been producing management reports for more than one hundred years, even if BI technology has only enabled that process for 25-odd years (itself a long period in IT terms).

Master Data business processes, on the other hand, are relatively recent – although Master Data has been maintained in systems since the dawn of the computing age, the business problem which Master Data Management looks to solve has only arisen recently, as corporate systems multiply, diversify and require “data integration” in order to stay consistent. In fact, it’s interesting to note that MDM as a genre first appeared in the early 2000s and was to some degree initially shunned by the big ERP vendors who told customers “you won’t have this problem if you just buy everything from us”. After a while, it became clear that most organisations would in fact continue to have some diversity in their application landscapes, and even those that could paint their landscapes with one vendor still suffered Master Data problems anyway. And so the Master Data Management system was born.

In today’s world, data is ever more important, ever more diverse, ever more dispersed and ever bigger. So the challenge of Master Data Management is now high on the agenda of most CIOs. The million-dollar question is – are there tools available to help solve it?

What MDM Tools are Meant to Deliver

The concept of MDM is quite simple – all-important Master and Reference Data (e.g. countries, states, cities) should be maintained in a single repository, with appropriate maintenance and control processes. It should be automatically integrated to down-stream applications in accordance with their needs. These applications should not then provide maintenance capabilities of their own – they are consumers not producers. Let’s take a minute and explore what that would look like in a typical large business:

  • It would mean that all product, customer, geography, sales-force, supplier, employee, financial, IT and company location data would be managed in the MDM solution.
  • It would mean that all corporate applications would no longer have their own stores of this data, their own maintenance screens, their own concepts of the form and structure of this data – this would all be managed by the MDM solution.
  • It would require extensive and flexible integration architecture to ensure that all the data got to the right applications, as they needed it.
  • It would encode a vast number and variety of business rules: to ensure consistency and validity of Master Data according to the different business rules, which exist across all types of industries and businesses. For example, a new Product can’t be created without a complete Bill of Materials; all new Customers must have a complete address with Country, State, City, Street and Responsible Sales-Person.
  • It would have a large number of users, across every business process.
  • It would be regularly fed with updated Reference Data from an authoritative external source.

 

 

MDM Tools Today

This describes the vision for MDM, which was commonly outlined during the early days of the genre. Harsh reality has interjected now and the marketing pitch tends to be more realistic. So what is feasible with the tools that are currently available, and making the optimistic assumption that you are ready to tackle the process and cultural change needed to achieve the business benefits?

Well, MDM implementations are now normally described as “single-domain” or “multi-domain”. This describes whether they focus on a single entity, such as Product or Customer, or multiple entities. Multi-domain implementations still seem to be relatively rare, and one of the reasons for this is that there are relatively few MDM solutions that support multiple entity domains. Single-domain solutions focused either on Product or Customer are the most common deployments, and in fact several of the leading MDM solutions major on one or the other.

One of the other headaches for companies considering buying a MDM product is that some of the mega-vendors actually offer more than one MDM product, and some offerings are recent acquisitions whose relationship to other vendor products is not yet clear.

Author: Dave Littlewood, Principal Consultant, Altis Consulting.  Dave is an Information Management specialist with 15 years’ experience in strategy, architecture, implementation and management in Information Management solutions across Europe, the US and Australia. His experience includes consumer products, telecommunications, agri-business, utilities and Government.

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About Andy Painter

A passionate Information and Data Architect with experience of the financial services industry, Andy’s background spans pharmaceuticals, publishing, e-commerce, retail banking and insurance, but always with a focus on data. One of Andy’s principle philosophies is that data is a key business asset.
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