Petty Power Plays Biggest Obstacle for Master Data Management

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It'd be lovely to think that master data management is a technology problem. But when you get down to it, the real challenge isn't the technology; it's resolving petty control issues, both within IT and without.

In a recent interview with Enterprise Systems, Jill Dyche, partner for Baseline Consulting and an MDM expert, identified two cultural issues as barriers to successful MDM projects, both of which boil down to politics:

  1. People don't want to give up control of "their" data.
  2. IT clings to its custom-coded integration solutions or systems, even if there are better, cheaper solutions available.

Rich Sherman of Informatica made a similar point in a January blog post, when he noted that MDM boils down to data integration, but requires a process -- not product -- solution involving people and politics:

If you don't have data governance and an organization ready to commit to an ongoing effort to implement and keep MDM going, then it does not matter what product you buy. I have seen companies spend a budget of eight figures with top-notch software and service vendors, but still fail to achieve MDM success because they assumed product trumps process and people.

Solving these problems isn't necessarily the domain of IT, but as this case study of an insurance company shows, IT must play a strong role in embracing and enforcing the solution. It started when the CEO -- how's that for executive sponsorship -- realized the company needed one view of the customer. He also had a very wise CIO, who pointed out that the real problem wasn't technology -- it was operational.


The case study outlines each of the challenges the CEO and CIO identified and how they overcame them. But even after the one-customer database was up and running, the company still struggles against "the trend to revert back to carrying localized information... ."


Technically, it's not a case study on MDM. In fact, the writer takes a pretty strong position against MDM and customer data integration products, arguing that a solid enterprise-class customer database, with the proper governance, can more efficiently solve the same problem.


Dyche's comments make it clear she thinks MDM is necessary, but regardless of the technical solution, the core dilemma is the same: How do you overcome the people, political and cultural obstacles to achieve one, correct view of your customers?


In the case study, it's the business units that cause the most trouble, but as Dyche pointed out, MDM -- or, really, data integration of any type -- can bring out IT's rice-bowling tendencies as well.


IT divisions often have a culture of in-house hand-coding, and this tends to bias them against buying a packaged solution, according to Phillip Russom, an analyst with The Data Warehousing Institute.


In my own conversation with Russom earlier this year, he said "roughly half of data integration solutions are built from scratch with hand coding," even though data integration technologies matured several years ago.


Bottom line: When you're trying to do something as radical and efficient as MDM, you're bound to step on a few toes. To succeed will require strong, executive leadership, the authority to override turf issues, and a solid plan for ongoing data governance.