I note the increase in attention that MDM is getting in the press. Seems like almost every day I get a PR piece from a website, marketing program or vendor that extols their own experiences of services related to MDM. Hype seems to be on the uptick.
Today I spotted the following article: How to Create Business Value from MDM published on Information Management. The article itself is pretty good – I didn’t spot much at odds with our research; I didn’t spot much that was overly new or challenging. It is a pretty good, solid even “foundational” perspective. But I did spot something close to a current dialog I am having with users quite a lot. I spotted this:
While MDM provides solutions around key business concepts such as customer, product, location and employee, reference data management provides solutions around data that is not mission critical across an enterprise. This might include a list of codes and descriptions for software used in an organization, a list of cost center codes and descriptions, etc.
This particular dialog happens to fit very closely with numerous inquiries I have had recently. Numerous users are asking about “reference data” meaning, that data that is a) not transaction data, b) not master data, but c) is used in conjunction with mater data, often behaving like master data, but clearly not master data. This data could be but is not limited to:
- Units of Measure
- Country Codes
- Corporate Codes
- Conversion Rates (currency, weight, temperature, etc.)
- Calendar and calendar constraints
More generally, these data could be described as a set (i.e. table) of permissible values (observations) that are often referred to by other (master) data and transactions/analysis. I suspect Mark Beyer, a colleague of mine at Gartner, would no doubt offer a more precise definition, but most business users get the idea.
The questions we get end up at this point: “If I am making progress with mastering of master data, can I not use that MDM program to govern reference data?”
Firstly users have to accept that there is a specific data realm called reference data. And that it is different but related to master data. Often such data is widely re-used, widely referenced, does not change overly much in terms of definition; and gains in value when it is consistent across uses. But, this data is not master data since it fails the business sniff-test: this data does not describe that the business does; the business users do not spend their day worrying about units of measure. They spend their day worrying about customers, citizens, services, and the business performance related to same.
The article therefore nicely highlights a self evident truth: yes, re-use the parts of your MDM program to govern other important data like reference data. Just don’t re-define MDM since we will all get mightily confused over what is in – and out – of scope of MDM. In your implementation, try defining “reference data” as a form of “master data” but remember to keep tracks on its real definition. In truth the governance of reference data will not be as onerous as it is for master data; and the technology used to support MDM will be more than enough to master reference data.