The Master Data Management Journey

People First. Data Second.

As crazy as it may sound, data might not be at the center of a successful master data management journey. At the heart of the journey are people – the people who need to be communicating with each other and adhering to short- and long-term business goals.

What is data management?

It’s a mistake to think of data management as a purely technical task or project.

Data management is really the coalescence of people, processes, policies, and technology to transform data into information.

You will find that in many organizations of any degree of maturity, data management initiatives are sponsored by the technology organization. Why is this? I believe it’s because, for some reason, the technology team has seized on the opportunity to be the heroes who can fix our broken or inadequate data. But technology is a piece of the overall solution; it is not the solution itself.

In my experience, data management initiatives that don’t have strong alignment and partnerships throughout the business will have a difficult time finding success. This is not to say technology is not important; in fact, the scaling of a data initiative is heavily dependent on it. But we must start with the business. The business provides the use cases, goals, and thresholds needed for the initiative, and technology is the part that enables data to transform in a scalable way. The success of the initiative relies on a smooth alliance.

To achieve this state, we need people to steward, architect, and develop data transformation. This is where domain experts and business stakeholders collaborate with technologists to arrive at a common goal. Through this, we can define data management as the intelligent coalescence of people, processes, policies, and technology to transform data into information.

What is MDM?

According to Gartner, “Master data management (MDM) is a technology-enabled discipline in which business and IT work together to ensure the uniformity, accuracy, stewardship, semantic consistency, and accountability of the enterprise’s official shared master data assets. Master data is the consistent and uniform set of identifiers and extended attributes that describes the core entities of the enterprise including customers, prospects, citizens, suppliers, sites, hierarchies, and chart of accounts.”

What is an MDM journey?

This journey is the path along which IT and the business collaborate on the endeavor of data transformation. 

Master Data Management Journey

1 - The Fundamental Data Assessment

Is the data at hand ready to be matched or enriched?

Understanding the current state of your data at the start of your data journey is crucial. The business needs to establish baselines using existing metrics, applied processes, active policies, and data quality standards. These metrics should help you answer the following questions: “Is the data at hand ready to be matched or enriched?” “If not, what do we need to do to make it ready?” “What data goals are possible at this state of data?” “Who in the organization and which third-party sources are needed to get to the desired state?” Focus on the data and your business goals to understand the level of transformation needed to meet your objectives. And don’t – DON’T – bring technology into the picture … yet.

2 - Partnership and Collaboration

Ensure partnerships between the business and IT for continued guidance.

At this stage, the business needs to identify the internal, cross-functional, and external parties who will be involved in the MDM journey. To start, take this opportunity to build a RACI document to categorize the players and their roles. Begin the conversations to disclose operational and business goals. Mutual goals should ideally be identified so you can progress together, cross-functionally. At this stage, a third-party data provider (such as Dun & Bradstreet) should be included as one of your partners to provide expertise, best practices, and referential data for your MDM journey. If you have current technologies in play, ensure that there are definitive partnerships between the business and IT for continued guidance on accelerating business-driven goals.

3 - Recurring Data Roundtable

If your communication isn’t flowing, your data never will.

The goal of your data roundtable is to provide a safe space for the team to discuss planning, data progress, new ideas, governance needs, and other relevant topics. Carefully curate the attendees; for them to earn a seat at the table, first ensure that what they can offer to the discussion is fit for the ultimate project objective. Participants should prepare for these meetings by providing topics and issues to be discussed by this cross-functional team. The idea here is to keep communication open and a priority.

4 - Cross-functional Workshops

Time for action, but first, “How do we get started on this journey?”

Once you have all the players identified and onboarded and are familiar with the current state of your data, it is time to get ready for action. But where do you start? With cross-functional participation, prioritization can be a challenge. This is where a workshop becomes vital to the MDM journey to progress toward an advanced state. The workshop aims to answer the question “How do we get there?” – or at least, “How do we progress or begin the journey?” However, before that, we need to have identified workflows that various members of the teams need to perform to solve issues, innovate solutions, and define a successful initiative. For more on this topic, see Every MDM Initiative Should Start With a Collaborative Workshop.

5 - Solutions

Failure is drastically reduced when you keep a strong alignment with your goals throughout your MDM journey.

The product of the workshop should include the workflows, technology needed, and priorities to follow. Processes, programs, policies, and technologies need to be implemented and measured to ensure actionability for data management to increase efficiency and scalability.

The key in deriving continuous value is that each of these stages should inform and be informed by the set goals for the MDM journey. It is imperative to align all tasks, meetings, discussions, etc., to contribute to the advancement of the organization’s goals. With complex and large initiatives, this can be missed so easily. With constant alignment, through strong partnerships and collaborations, items like resource issues, prioritization issues, and scope creep will always be on the table for discussion for escalation and action. Your failure rate is drastically reduced when you keep a strong alignment with your goals throughout your MDM journey.

Conclusion: Collaboration = Value

Whether you are about to embark on your first MDM journey or are doing it again for the umpteenth time, put the data and technology aside for a moment. Yes, better data is the purpose of your journey, but at its heart are people – and if they’re going to ever be aligned with data, they first need to be aligned themselves, constantly communicating and consciously adhering to short- and long-term business goals. A collaborative cross-functional team is key to continually driving value.

You’ll never derive full value from your MDM journey without a collaborative cross-functional team at its core. The data technology solution is the last step in this cycle. Getting together your current state, people, goals, and priorities will increase MDM journey success.

Joseph Santos and Sita Nathan contributed to this article.