Master Data Management's (MDM) Biggest Challenge: Governance

Loraine Lawson

It’s a bit ironic, really. Master data management’s biggest potential and biggest pitfall is the same thing: governance.

MDM involves integrating the data and ensuring it’s right. To do that requires a certain amount of governance — finding out, for instance, which version is the “correct” version of data and who is “responsible for it.”

But sadly, sometimes the governance work ends there, as if master data would somehow magically remain pristine and unchanged — a veritable “golden” copy of the record, locked in time and space.

That’s why governance is quickly becoming a major focus for MDM projects and practitioners.

Or, as Aaron Zornes, a veteran IT consultant and the so-called godfather of MDM, put it during an interview with TechTarget:

You’ve got to do governance … Without governance, MDM is just data integration.

OK, fair enough. The problem, however, is getting someone to actually be responsible for governance. As far as I can tell, in this day and age, no one really wants to be responsible for anything, particularly if it will get them fired or sued. But beyond that, there’s a more basic problem with governance, as a recent Information Management piece points out, and that’s this: Who really owns the data?

It’s a core governance question, and it tends to be interpreted in one of two ways:

  1. The data owner is the person responsible for the data.
  2. The data owner is the person who can give IT requirements so IT can do its job.

Both of these are flawed approaches to data governance, the piece points out.

In the first scenario, it’s ridiculous to think the so-called data owner is always in possession of the data and will always know if it’s right or wrong.

Take customer data, for instance: Your sales team may be the front line for receiving that data, but perhaps a call to customer service meant an update to a customer’s address. Who owns that data? “How can such an ‘owner’ of customer data always be expected to know if the data is right or wrong?” the article asks.

The second is just a misappropriation of the term, substituting for “business sponsor,” the piece contends.

All of which leaves the core question unanswered: Who owns the data?

There’s only one person who truly owns the data and always knows if it’s right or wrong, the piece argues, and that’s the customer. It’s so obvious, and yet it’s a point that’s nearly universally overlooked when we talk about data governance.

The post doesn’t offer any real options for how that translates into fixing master data or data governance but that doesn’t make the point any less true or avoidable.

Who knows — perhaps this is where social master data management will find its use case. But I think it’s an honest observation that makes a very real point about why governance is so gosh-darn hard.

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