Baby Steps to Master Data Management

Loraine Lawson

If you want to start small with master data management, you've got to start with a noun, says Evan Levy, a partner at Baseline Consulting and an instructor with The Data Warehousing Institute.


You don't implement MDM by application or even database. You start with one subject area-customer, product-Levy told me during a recent interview.

If I sell product to customers, product is a subject area. Customer is a subject area. If you're a data modeler or a database person, it's the main entity. It's really the things that we use or sell in business. It's people, places and things.

The problem is, IT doesn't think in nouns. IT is all about the verb: Defining, coding, testing, supporting. What's more, IT departments tend to view the world in terms of projects-fulfilling this feature request, upgrading to this release, migrating to this server. And that makes sense-projects can be funded. Nouns ... well, nouns aren't exactly a budget line item.


But as with so many enterprise-wide disciplines, master data management requires an approach that's independent of projects, Levy said. You adopt a standard for one subject, and then you force every application to use that standard. "Dura Lex Sed Lex (lat.'The law is harsh but it is the law')" warns a recent article, "Five Practical Tips for a Master Data Management Solution":

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.

But before you get to enforcement and governance, you have to get to the master data, and that's harder than it sounds. First, it's not always clear what constitutes master data and what doesn't. Second, starting MDM is like trying to run before you've walked for many organizations, since few organizations have taken the first vital steps. Levy said:

Data standards is having metadata and I'm going to agree that everything has a title, I know what the title means and what the definition is. It could vary system to system. Data management says we're going to have these details. Master data management says these details will match everywhere and the value means the same thing everywhere.


Master data management doesn't just take time-it takes attention, patience, persistence and an ability to work across all projects.

"You do it one subject at a time. You don't bite off everything," Levy said.

What's funny is when data warehousing starts, they come up with this data management, but it's only inside the skins of the data warehouse. So you've got all this ETL logic, the transformation logic, it figures out how to link all this data from all these systems so it can then be formatted correctly.
The premise of master data management is, if I've done it correctly, I don't need to come up with that logic because I know how to link product ID across these different systems to pull the product information. I know how to link all the different customer IDs across all these different systems. I don't have to invent that anymore. It's done once and it's done.

Levy will be leading seminars on master data management and data integration issues at the upcoming TDWI World Conference, May 9-14 in Chicago. To read more of my interview with Levy, check out "Understanding Metadata and the Business Problems It Creates" and "The Role of Metadata in Integration and MDM."

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Apr 28, 2010 3:03 AM Jim Jim  says:

Great Article!  My company just underwent the MDM implementation process.  We ended using Initate, they do a great job!  They are super knowledgeable and have an amazing client focus.

May 20, 2010 1:55 AM Phil Phil  says:

Check out (cool vendor in MDM in 2010)-just saw a demo and seems to be a really agile solution.

Sep 18, 2010 12:13 PM Michael Zuckerman Michael Zuckerman  says:

Good article.  Here is info on our MDM event.  You can check it out via this link or go to our home page and register.

This event presents why the current paradigm for MDM brings very substantial risks, excess costs and how to avoid them. There is a better way - we are presenting a paradigm shift to the current model for master data management implementation. It is very different, highly automated and provides tremendous cost advantage and economy of scale. MDM can now be more than cost effective, implemented in just weeks, deployed on more cost effective platforms and provide return on investment in less than a year from project start.

We are bringing a cost and implementation model to the market that will enable small, mid tier firms, divisions and line-of-business organizations to consider and implement MDM at cost levels where it presents a strong business case. Products or customer focused data will work equally well. The high degree of automation we provide even provides a much stronger business case for implementation over approaches such open source.

Join this webinar on October 12 (see the link website link below or go to our home page and find the link there - time is 10 am PST - we will email you webex links after you register) and learn more about the company. We're new, we expect to be controversial, and we're looking for partners and innovators that want to find a better way.

With respect, we are very much in favor of the implementation of MDM, but we feel the current approach used by most existing customers needs vast improvement.

Prospective partners are welcome to email me via


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