The Problems with MDM Technology

Loraine Lawson

If you’re looking for someone to pull punches, don’t talk to Aaron Zornes.

Zornes (@zornes) is the chief research officer of the MDM institute, which is a research and advisory consultancy focused only on master data management.

I recently interviewed Zornes about “passive” and “passive aggressive” data governance. That was the original topic, but along the way, we covered a lot of ground, including a useful discussion about the promises MDM vendors made but sometimes couldn’t keep and why that matters.

I’ve heard a lot of vendors and analysts talk about MDM’s primary points of failure as being either people or processes, but in our discussion, Zornes offered a different opinion.

He contends that the technology’s shortcoming played a key role in undermining master data management programs.

“Without formal processes, governance, and without formal technologies and software, it collapses of its own weight,” Zornes said. “You could get an MDM system up and running, but it’s not sustainable economically or politically unless you have some processes that are aided by the software to facilitate all this political administration.”

The truth was, when MDM really started to take off, the technology hadn’t evolved to the point that it could really deliver what vendors said it could, or what organizations needed it to do, as he explains in part one of our Q&A, “The ‘Gotcha’ Problem with Master Data Management Tools.”

The background is useful, I think, in understanding what’s gone wrong with many MDM projects.

But it does raise some questions: Where are we now? Can the technology actually support MDM and governance? And if it can’t, are organizations wasting their time organizing governance committees?

“Not to my customer satisfaction, no,” he said.

The problem is that while the vendors have added governance tools, they’re very focused on their own solutions.

“MDM was supposed to simplify and modernize all that for us, and it did,” Zornes said. “But the gotcha is that we don’t buy it all from one vendor and as a result, we’re now getting multiple MDMs and at the same time, each of these MDMs is bringing its own governance with it. So how do we get some governance to sit on top of all these MDM hubs and orchestrate it?”

And there’s still a gap between being able to map out governance and actually turning that into something the technology will enforce.

Too often, it seems, MDM solutions are like that one guy we all know who can make these fabulous, elaborate flow charts and drawings, but he can’t actually do any of it.

Where Do the MDM Vendors Stand Now?

I didn’t include this in the Q&A, but Zornes did explain where several key vendors are now when it comes to integrating governance with MDM.

IBM has Master Data Policy Manager, he says, which it intends to make part of its MDM hub. What’s unique about IBM is that it will include that with the MDM hub, on the premise that everybody needs it, which Zornes said he agrees with conceptually.

“Every MDM server or every MDM-using organization needs that type of capability, so you could break it apart and charge more for it, which is what Informatica does and what Kalido does, or you can make it an integrated part of the product,” he said. “Ideally, you want it broken out so that you can identify revenues so that you can assign more resources to enhance it and all that stuff.  But that was IBM’s choice to go the route that they went.”

Informatica is very focused on governance, but it’s “not so much the active integrated” data governance he sees other vendors moving to. To fill that gap, he says Informatica should acquire someone like Collibra or Kalido, “where they could take that data governance front end and graft it onto the Informatica MDM that they already have."

There are other solutions that offer good support for building and creating governance, he said, although the ones he mentioned seem to be more niche solutions.

“Companies like Orchestra Networks have really good governance workflow, through their domains that they work closely with, which are product and reference data,” Zornes said. “SAP has excellent data governance built into materials vendors finance."

Of course, the real problem is that each of these solutions is its own silo, which means for every MDM solution you have, there’s a separate data governance tool.

Unfortunately, that’s just one of the silo problems with MDM. The other emerging problem organizations are uncovering: Too many different MDM solutions, with no way to unite them. Find out more about that issue, including what Zornes think may be the solution, in the second part of our discussion, “The MDM Silo Problem Vendors Are Ignoring.”

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