Why Management Support, Governance Are Key to MDM

Loraine Lawson
Slide Show

10 Critical Myths and Realities of Master Data Management

Prevalent myths surrounding MDM alongside an explanation of the realities.

What keeps companies from moving forward on master data management? "No buy in from senior management" ranked among the top obstacles, with 42 percent of 176 organizations citing it as a barrier in a February survey conducted by the Aberdeen Group.


That's probably why in its report, "Turning Pain into Productivity with Master Data Management," the research group lists "secure support from senior management for data governance" as a required action for those hoping to succeed with MDM. The report is available for free download through March 29.

Obtaining executive sponsorship has long been a staple tip for IT success, so you're probably not surprised at that part. But you'll notice that the advice is to secure support for data governance-not MDM. What's up with that?

Talk with any MDM expert and you'll soon hear how critical data governance is to MDM. If you think about data governance as clarifying who has formal responsibility for data, as well as establishing who has what kind of access to the data, it make sense that governance would be critical to a formal master data management program, which tries to eliminate discrepancies in the master data.

"There's not much point in doing master data management if you're not going to govern the data," Dan Power, owner of the Boston-based consulting firm Hub Solution Designs, wrote in an Oct. blog post. "Make sure you convince management of the need for a data governance team as part of your MDM implementation, because trying to do master data management without data governance is like trying to fly a plane with only one wing."

Or, as the ever-pithy Black Adder might say, MDM without data governance is like a broken pencil: pointless.

Gartner also considers governance a core component part of MDM. In a 2009 report, "The Seven Building Blocks of MDM," Gartner analyst John Radcliffe wrote the greatest challenges for MDM would not be technical, but governance-related.

To address that, your first step on the MDM journey should actually be to implement data governance, Forrester analyst and MDM expert Rob Karel told me during a 2008 interview:

Adoption of a data governance strategy to identify business ownership and stewardship roles and responsibilities should always be the first step. ... MDM initiatives without effective governance are much more likely to deliver below expectations.

After that, you'll want to focus on "which business processes are in the most critical need of master data," Karel adds, hitting upon another common caveat for MDM: It should be a business initiative, not an IT project. That's why it's so important that senior management supports any MDM initiative. Radcliffe warned in a December press release:

It's not just an IT project. The business needs to take responsibility and be accountable for master data governance and stewardship. Unless organizations take a holistic, business-driven approach to MDM, addressing governance and metrics requirements in particular, they risk having their MDM programs fail.

So how do you convince executives to sponsor and fund data governance and MDM? In an Information Management column, Power states the first step is to understand your organization's political landscape:

Who are your likely allies and opponents? How will you get your initial funding and accomplish implementation? And don't forget to plan for data governance, the continuing political framework that takes ownership of the data, manages it proactively, resolves issues and disputes that arise over time, and sets policies for information management, security and privacy, data quality, compliance and so on.

You'll have to have your IT house in order, too. The Aberdeen survey found that 79 percent of Best-in-Class (the top 20 percent) companies had defined, documented IT roles and responsibilities.

Politics, Otto von Bismarck said, is the art of the possible, and I think that holds true when you're trying to gather support for initiatives such as MDM. To that end, you've got to stay focused on what MDM can do to further strategic goals and, yes, the bottom line.

"Keep those long-term goals in mind and don't get swayed by minor tactical considerations," advises the Aberdeen Group. "Make sure the end result will be driving profit and productivity in the areas that matter most. This was the most essential strategic action across all industries, selected by 70 percent of all respondents."

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