Blog post

Round-Up: Master Data Management (MDM) 2012, and looking forward to 2013

By Andrew White | January 11, 2013 | 1 Comment

MDMMaster Data ManagementMaster DataGovernanceEnterprise Information Management (EIM)Data StewardshipData Quality

2012 was yet another busy and important year for Master Data Management.  I thought I would gather together a few thoughts and offer them up as a sort of “annual round-up”.  Hope you like them.

Overall, MDM continued to make progress on several fronts.

As a concept, the idea that it is possible to sustain a “single version” of the truth for that core data that sits at the center of an organizations most important business processes, seems to be reasonably accepted.  It still amazes me that the concept didn’t really exist as a discrete topic 6 or 7 years ago – anywhere in Information Management. 

This does not mean that MDM was “invented” but that the specific of what we mean by MDM was not an explicit activity, process, program or thing.  The idea of “good, clean, consistent” data was always there.  Good data quality was widely talked about.  I guess we should be all quite happy with ourselves that we took the time to formalize MDM since it has enabled a lot progress that hitherto fore, organizations had, on the whole, struggled to make with information management.

So what progress was made in 2012?

  • More implementations went “live”
  • MDM continued its global adoption
  • MDM maturity inched forward
  • Understanding of what MDM really is, or results in, started to crystallize
  • More progress was made in understanding how to make information stewardship transparent to the business (user)

On the negative or challenging side:

  • Vendor hype related to multidomain MDM and what vendor’s can do for users (in terms of meeting known and unknown, future requirements) continued to be far in excess of reality
  • Number of MDM “failures” continues to increase
  • Increasing focus on Information as an Exploitable Asset (think big data, social data, mobile and cloud computing etc) put more pressure on organizations to sustain MDM (as part of a broader, EIM) effort.

MDM for Everyone

The number of folks that attended our European and North American summits grew in double digits in 2012 over 2011.  This is impressive given the economic growth observed around the world.  Additionally the number of “newbies” at these events grew, yet again, in 2012.  This amazed me again in 2012, as it did in 2011, in that it suggests MDM continues to “penetrate” more and more of the overall IT industry.

Even though the sweet spot for MDM might be described as those organizations with the highest degree of heterogeneity in their application landscape, a midsize organization still has the exact same business process challenges.  It is just that for the midsize enterprise, the technical solution supporting the MDM program could look different to what the large enterprise need.

The Meaning of MDM

One thing that is really exciting for me relates to what users mean when they say, “Master Data Management”.  What does MDM really mean?  What does it imply?

For some users (and analysts, I might add), MDM is:

  1. A discrete program, with a start, and “go live” and a reason for being on its own merits
  2. The start of something bigger and more exciting
  3. A limited, parochial view that should be eradicated for its own good

For me, MDM is the following:

  1. A program, narrowly scoped by design (i.e. just master data) in order to facilitate greatest likelihood of success with an information governance program
  2. The start of a broader EIM program that may go off into any number of directions over time, led by targeted improvements in business outcomes

What is clear from the dialog in 2012 is this: There is no such thing as MDM!  Organizations need a boundary within which to start their EIM program, and MDM provides just that.  To start MDM is to admit and seek a limited focus on what could and should be governed in order to drive improvements in business outcomes.  MDM may take several years – in fact it probably will.  That is a good thing, not a bad thing.  MDM is not easy!  It calls into question the very design for how our organizations do what they do (even though MDM itself does not provide the entire answer; just part of it).

But as EVERY successful MDM program lead will tell you, you really can’t limit your focus to “just” master data.

For example:

  • Reference data (look up tables for currencies, units of measure, gender etc) are required when defining customer and product master data
  • Application Suite (specific) data are required to be governed alongside master data (to make business applications do what they do) even though such data is governed locally in those applications; and that application metadata needs to be visible to the MDM hub to support stewardship tasks
  • Rich, unstructured data (think content, digital images, text, voice etc) is often used alongside structured master and application specific data, in order to support complex business processes (think multichannel e-Commerce).

So given that, MDM itself is not really limited or bounded; but the ability to control that boundary is what makes MDM so powerful.  Some organizations are good at change management and can limit that focus, and so MDM gets stood up and very quickly expands its focus onto other data, thus evolving to a more mature EIM program very quickly.  Other organizations allow MDM scope to balloon (even if they still call it MDM) and it becomes too big, and too broad; and that is a big red flag.

My conclusion is that many folks still don’t understand what MDM means.  I paraphrase Winston Churchill:

“Now this {MDM] is not the end [goal]. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning

MDM has as bright future – because it is a good first step to start exploiting information for increased business value.  But we need to continue to spread the awareness that it is not an end of itself.  And lastly MDM is only ONE first step – there are others that can also provide increased business value; but I would argue that MDM is the one, single, largest driver that is promoting the interested in enterprise wide information governance.

And into 2013?

The main challenge for 2013 that I see, for those organizations that are already moving forward with MDM, relates to the following inquiry that is becoming all too frequent.  In a client inquiry yesterday, the user said to me:

 “In all frankness, we have a pretty good IT implementation [of MDM] behind us.   We have data integrated.  We have ETL working.  We have data quality tools embedded.  We have the whole MDM thing working fine.”

The user went on to say (I paraphrase): We even changed job titles to “governance” and “steward” so we have those people hired and roles established.  But some few months have gone by, and anomalies and exceptions in the data are now emerging, and no one is actively or actually managing them, fixing the data, or revising/evaluating polices.  There is a whole lot of finger pointing going on; and worse, our business users believe they have “adopted single version of the truth” and not think that IT has the problem in the data. 

Back to a real quote for the punch line:

“In other words, we realize we missed a BIG step since we did not implement the governance and stewardship PROCESSES.”


Effectively, in my words, this client did not implement an MDM program; they implemented an MDM hub (does not matter which vendor) with its attendant DI and DQ technology, but missed the most important part of the standard MDM program (governance, organization, process and the business level metrics).  This organization implemented IT systems and basic data level metrics, but little else.

The insidious part about this is that this user would report that they DO have hired roles for governance and stewards; yet clearly the governance and stewards work is not taking place!  There is little point using survey data from this user on “resources committed to information governance” since it won’t mean much.

For those organizations just beginning their MDM journey in 2013, the above emerging challenge is a warning; and the basic “best practices” for MDM hold true.  I guess that means that I will be pretty busy in 2013!  Looking forward to talking with you on the telephone!

Good luck in 2013!

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Comments are closed

1 Comment

  • This is all part of the usual “new technology cycle” – and not much has changed over the last 30 or so years. We (the industry) hail the latest technology in and of itself, and by itself as the savior, without the thought about or understanding of what needs to happen organizationally to make it work effectively. This also sometimes shows a lack of understand as to what the real problems are we are trying to solve. It should be a phase in the Gartner hype cycle.