I took a briefing from Orchestra Networks yesterday, a French based MDM vendor, that allowed me to explore again the comparison between the idea of what a best-of-breed or specialist MDM vendor can do versus a generalist MDM vendor. Of course, the answer is in how these vendor categories are defined. And once we have defined them, the question then follows – which vendor is best?
We have been using the term best-of-breed, specialist, or niche MDM vendor to denote a vendor that has focused on one specific master data domain. The two most common data domains referred to by users is customer, and product. One side bar that always get’s my goat: does a customer focused enterprise always start with MDM of Customer data? The answer is a firm, “no!” A customer focused firm that sells product and/or services may have reasons to start with MDM of Product data. After all, if you don’t know exactly what it is you have to sell, how can you assure good customer service? But I digress…
Best-of-breed MDM has not necessarily implied single industry focus. It so happens that a focus on a specific domain generally leads to a focus on one or a small number of industries. It seems that the greatest gap in terms of IP exists between customer and product domains, rather than any two industries. However, best-of-breed MDM does mean “depth” in terms of functional capability to meet the needs of that domain/industry. And given the number of end users I and my colleagues have spoken with so far, there is a huge, wide discrepancy in the complexity of issues customer face with MDM.
Another characterization of best of breed MDM is that the vendor focuses on what we call operational MDM. Operational MDM is form of MDM that explicitly seeks, as part of its governance routines, to clean up source data once errors are found in the business.
Analytical MDM represents a form of MDM that exists in a BI context, to support cleansing of data in a data warehouse environment, where there is no explicit desire to clean up the source data. I came up with the idea of analytical MDM to highlight the overlapping in technology and technique (use of data quality, cleansing, normalization etc) and differences (desire to clean source; not to clean source) across a continuum of use cases. Though not accepted early on it seems that the term, and differences, is now widely accepted.
So what is a generalist MDM vendor? There are in fact different types of generalists. One might focus on analytical MDM only. This means that the technology is used to model all kinds of master data (product, customer, person, hierarchy, and dimension data) but in a BI environment only. Another might be a vendor that focuses on operational MDM but for many different types of data domain, though the functional capability for any one domain is not that “deep”.
Users have to decide what they need to focus on – and this may change over time. Business drivers may lead to the recognition that “deep MDM” skills are needed first hand to get to grips with very complex product data workflows, but later, a more general approach is needed to master other domains.
So the need will change over time; and the vendors capability will evolve also. As such, there is no “right” position to take. Both, and all the variations in between, have a role to play in meeting user requirements. The key perhaps is to align the right vendor approach to the need.
Of course, putting my vendor hat on, I have to answer, “But which vendor will win?” It depends – on what we mean by “winning”!