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Defining MDM – again

by Andrew White  |  July 1, 2009  |  2 Comments

Seems odd, but can we talk about defining “MDM”, and maybe master data?

I was pointed to that great knowledge base in the sky, Wikipedia, and its definition of MDM.  The definition reads:

  • In computing, master data management (MDM) comprises a set of processes and tools that consistently defines and manages the non-transactional data entities of an organization (also called reference data). MDM has the objective of providing processes for collecting, aggregating, matching, consolidating, quality-assuring, persisting and distributing such data throughout an organization to ensure consistency and control in the ongoing maintenance and application use of this information.

I was asked to explain why our definition is different.  Our definition is as follows:

  • Master Data Management (MDM) is a discipline in which the business and the IT organization work together to ensure the uniformity, accuracy, semantic persistence, stewardship and accountability of the enterprise’s official, shared master data. Organizations apply MDM to eliminate endless, time-consuming debates about “whose data is right,” which can lead to poor decision making and business performance.

There is a subtle different.  Wikipedia refers to “non-transactional data entities”.  The link for “non-transactional data entities” actually points to “transaction data” which includes, in the Wikipedia definition:

  • Transaction data always has a time dimension, a numerical value and refers to one or more objects (i.e. the reference data).

Under reference data we find: 

  • Reference data are data describing a physical or virtual object and its properties.[citation needed] Reference data are usually described with nouns.[citation needed]
  • Reference data is used in data management to define characteristics of an identifier that are used within other data centric processes. For example – reference data within finance might be a product master or a security master.

I am glad to say that we are more precise.  We call out, immediately, that we are talking about a particular data, not just any old reference data.  So I like our definition.

We could fall into a debate of semantics perhaps, but it is odd that something as important as MDM has slightly different definitions, or points of interest, or emphasis.  I can’t be bothered to argue with Wikipedia.

What do you think?  Is Wikipedia’s looser definition more helpful?

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Category: defining-master-data  mdm  reference-data  

Tags: mdm  reference-data  

Andrew White
Research VP
8 years at Gartner
22 years IT industry

Andrew White is a Distinguished Analyst and VP. His roles include Chief of Research and Content Lead for Data and Analytics. His main research focus is data and analytics strategy, platforms, and governance. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on Defining MDM – again


  1. Bhaskar Kuppusamy says:

    Hello – A great question and one that definately needs to be addressed.

    I have a slightly different view of Master Data. Let me start with an example. If a customer goes to the bank and deposits a check, it is a transaction whereas If the customer changes the address it is a change to the master data. So what is the difference?

    Master data events (create, update, delete) are “infrequent” as compared to transaction data events as defined by the business’s operations. So what if the customer made just one deposit in a year and changed the address twice in the same year, then are the definitions reversed? No. Under normal business operations it is expected that number of address changes will be far less than the number of deposits/withdrawals. Hence addres change is a Master data related change.

    Is address change a transaction for a business like NCOA. May be, in which case the Master data may be something else..maybe SSN.

    I like the the definition of Wiki as it attempts to define Master data (non-transactional data, etc). I see you define MDM but did’nt see Master data being defined per se.

    -Bhaskar

  2. Brian Schulte says:

    I recommend thinking in terms of governance rather than getting hung up on definition. If, for example, the enterprise identifies certain Master Data and Reference Data that needs to be governed centrally, you would employ a similar process. We govern currency codes, customer accounts and legal entity hierarchy following the same business practice.



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