Master Data Management: Whaddya Mean It's Not About the Data?


Tony Fisher had some surprising things to say about master data management during my recent interview with him.


Fisher is the president and CEO of DataFlux, which sells an MDM solution. He was a bit flummoxed about a CIO.com article that said CIOs see MDM as a chance to fix past data management sins, and he wanted to talk about that.


While he agreed MDM could fix a lot of mistakes, he disliked the implied judgment that IT was somehow responsible for these problems. He argued:

"...it was not by really shoddy implementations and it was not by any real poor overall strategy and direction, it's just the way that we did things, and it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. So, we are fixing those problems, but we should not point fingers at IT and say the reason that we're in this predicament in the first place is because you didn't do your job right."

I agreed. But other points Fisher made during the interview were a bit surprising.


First, even though his company sells MDM solutions, he told me candidly MDM is not about technology. In fact, he added, it's not even about the data:

"The real thing about MDM -- and the thing that I think a lot of the companies miss -- is that MDM is not about technology. As a matter of fact, MDM is not really about the data -- and these are tough things for people to grasp, especially folks in IT. But the fact is that MDM is about the business. It is about improving the business. And if you do not approach MDM in that way, you are most likely going to fail."

Now that confused me, because honestly, "data" is right there in the middle -- Master Data Management. If I'm thinking it, it's probably coming out my mouth, so of course I asked him, "What do you mean it's not about the data?"


Fisher replied that MDM is about business processes and improving those processes -- data is just the setting for the discussion. So, as with all major IT initiatives, your starting place should be identifying what business problems you're trying to solve. Then, the next step should be to ask what business processes are part of the problem. It's like tracing water -- it's more efficient to start at the source and work your way to the streams.


If you start with the data, you're starting at the wrong end -- and most likely, you'll just wind up building another data silo, this time called "MDM."


In the first part of our interview, he explained more about the role of MDM in helping the business.


In the second part, Fisher answered more practical questions about how you can know if you need MDM and what steps you should take before you consider implementing MDM. He also shared DataFlux's Seven Step Self Help program for building an effective MDM infrastructure.


It's a long read, but Fisher does a great job of explaining MDM's business value and what you can do now if you're not ready -- or may never need -- MDM.