It can be tough to get business stakeholders on board with technology initiatives, especially if they are faced with a confusing array of tech acronyms and feel the effort is being pushed by an IT department that simply isn't making a compelling-enough business case. Thus I've been following with interest the posts of IT Business Edge colleague Loraine Lawson, who has written about efforts to create business interest in master data management by marrying it with business process management.
Industry experts see BPM provider Software AG's recent acquisition of Data Foundations' MDM solution (see what I mean about the acronyms?) as a promising sign this trend will take off. It does make sense, given that process-improvement efforts are more likely to fail if processes are riddled with bad or inconsistent data. Yet perhaps because IT is often seen as the caretaker of company data, the business doesn't get as involved in data quality efforts as it should and MDM is perceived as just another IT project.
Selling MDM and BPM as a package deal could certainly work, provided business users are strongly invested in BPM. Yet at many companies, I suspect BPM ends up in the same kind of IT/business limbo that data governance does.
Loraine wrote a post last month with advice on achieving MDM success, with fine suggestions from consultant Dan Power. Among his main points: Don't start with the technology, but with the need or problem it's intended to address. Great advice to be sure. But the fact that Power feels compelled to say it tells you companies often do start with tools and technology, which leads to problems down the road. And guess what? Vinaykumar Mummigatti, head of the BPM group at IT services company Virtusa Corp., told me many companies often jump ahead to technology without enough focus on the business issues BPM is supposed to resolve.
I think BPM and MDM initiatives share other common problems as well, a couple of which Mummigatti mentioned in our interview. While both should be implemented across an enterprise to yield strong returns, many companies treat them as isolated departmental solutions. And many companies don't consider the requirements for organizational change management, despite the fact both BPM and MDM call for a high degree of change in the way users perform their jobs.
There is a glimmer of hope, however, and it involves also connecting MDM to business intelligence, a technology being adopted by more business users. Even if they are doing little more than looking at dashboards, business users often see a clear value in BI. Certainly this will be easier if companies already have mature BI programs. As BPM expert Sandy Kemsley told Loraine in a recent interview.
You can get better analytics if you have consistent data models and those consistent data models are going to be helped by MDM; that's one of the key business benefits. When you want to have a report that gathers data from a number of different systems, it's not going to be some huge, big, long project because somebody has to figure out what data maps onto what other data. It's going to be a much more straightforward thing because while the data may not all be in one place, at least it will be in a consistent format so that you can easily bring it together.
The challenge for IT will be in connecting the dots between the benefits companies can attain by using these technologies in tandem. This will be tough if the business sees them as little more than an alphabet soup of acronyms. IT needs to come up with some very specific business cases.
In the case of BI and BPM, as companies automate their processes, they may also want to use real-time information from BI systems to kick off new processes. So when inventory levels fall below a certain amount, for example, a process to order more is triggered. This won't work, however, if companies don't have good quality data related to their inventories, and that's where MDM comes in.