Cutting Through IT’s ‘Truthiness’ About Master Data Management

    When it comes to master data management, it seems CIOs and IT leaders may be engaging in a bit of what Stephen Colbert calls “truthiness.”

    Truthiness is when you just “know” something is so, without regard to facts or logic.

    “Now, Loraine. That doesn’t sound like IT,” you might be thinking.

    And I agree — except it sounds exactly like IT in one of its most common blind spots: What the business really needs.

    And so, master data management becomes an IT project; it becomes about achieving a golden record of the data by integrating systems and applications, and, through one of several options, ensuring everybody’s on the same page.

    How can that NOT be what the business wants?

    And there’s the truthiness assumption, at least if I’m reading Forrester analyst Michele Goetz correctly.

    “The number one reason I hear from IT organizations of why they want to embark on MDM is for consolidation or integration of systems,” Goetz (@FORR_Mgoetz) writes in a recent post, “Master Data Management Does Not Equal The Single Source Of Truth.” “My first reaction is to cringe because the implication is that MDM is a data integration tool and the value is the matching capabilities. …

    “My next reaction is that IT missed the point that the business wants data to support a system of engagement.”

    Integration, matching capabilities, clean data — those are all good things, all part of MDM. They’re really IT goals, a to-do list, if you will, for achieving a more strategic end. And that’s what IT tends to forget, and that’s also why, Goetz contends, IT ends up redoing MDM down the road.

    So … what is the truth about what the business really wants?

    “The value of MDM is to be able to model and render a domain to fit a system of engagement,” Goetz states.

    In other words, the business folk want to use the data to improve their interactions with customers, clients — whomever. If that means having the most up-to-date sales price or the correct address, the end goal here is to make their life easier by ensuring they have the right information when engaging with these people.

    As a side note, I would like to add those of us on the outside — the customers, voters, clients, citizens or partners or whatever — concur that this is a good goal for both the business and IT.

    OK, you may be thinking, but isn’t it all the same thing? Not really, she argues. After all, a person can have many identities at many points in time. I may be a journalist when I call your office today, but at other times, I may also be a customer or employee or partner. And products aren’t one-dimensional either.

    “A product is as much about the physical aspect as it is the pricing, message, and sales channel it is sold through. Or, it is also faceted by the fact that it is put together from various products and parts from partners,” she writes.

    And then we come to the key part, her thesis, you might say:

    “What MDM provides are definitions and instructions on the right data to use in the right engagement. Context is a key value of MDM.”

    Gartner analyst Andrew White really liked that last part — context is a key value of MDM. In a response column, he reiterates that point, saying it’s about information in context. That’s why MDM cannot be implemented in IT, but must be implemented by business users, he writes.

    “If IT implements something they call ‘MDM,’ it is more likely another one of those classic data integration projects. Boo hoo,” he adds.

    You would think that would result in a really rigid, localized approach to MDM, but apparently, the reverse is true: By focusing on a “golden record,” IT creates too rigid a model, Goetz says.

    “When organizations have implemented MDM to create a golden record and single source of truth, domain models are extremely rigid and defined only within a single engagement model for a process or reporting,” she explains. “The challenge is the master entity is global in nature when it should have been localized. This model does not allow enough points of relationship to create the dimensions needed to extend beyond the initial scope.”

    And then guess what? You’ve got to rebuild your MDM model if you want to do use it someplace else, she adds.

    Who wants that? So at least read what she has to say.

    If you’re an IT leader, you may find it helpful to also read consultant Dianne Arneberg’s piece that follows along with the same vein, but with more focus on how re-focusing on the data that’s needed, rather than “one golden copy,” changes how you approach the technology part.

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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