The Cool Kids Corner: Master Data Management (MDM) in the Spotlight

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Mark Horseman discusses MDM
Read about author Mark Horseman.

Hello! I’m Mark Horseman and welcome to The Cool Kids Corner. This is my monthly check-in to share with you the people and ideas I encounter as a data evangelist with DATAVERSITY. (Read last month’s column here.) This month we’re talking about the current demand for master data management (MDM). What is MDM? Why is it needed now more than ever? What has changed with the technology? And, ultimately, we’ll see what the Cool Kids are saying. 

For our journey through the history of MDM, we’re going to need to borrow a time machine. Imagine our time machine is a chair with a dashboard, set of dials, and lever, not dissimilar from H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine.” Let’s set the dials back to the 1980s, pull the lever, and see where that takes us. The sky goes dark, the spectacular lights of time travel erupt around us, and we find ourselves transported. 

Organizations at this time were keen on consistent location, entity, and product data. Shrewd data managers developed standards and practices around maintaining this data, and the concept of the golden record and single source of truth was born. Folks at this time knew that not having multiple records for the same customer, place, or good was critical to efficient operations. Their frontier work in the space was the foundation of the knowledge area in the DMBoK

Join us as we move forward another couple of decades. We set the dials, pull the lever, sit back, and the colors of the 2000s flood our senses. 

Organizations are largely run and managed by big ERP systems. The pain points of not having clean, consistent master data within an organization would often hit organizations in the face. Finding out that your top 10 customers are all the same customer – or you have 15 different stock keeping units (SKUs) for the same product – would kick off projects to deal with MDM. Data managers further refined and perfected techniques to manage master data, and vendors started getting into the space to help organizations master their data. Books like “Customer Data Integration” by Jill Dyché and Evan Levy came out and provided further guidance. Even with all that activity, MDM didn’t become a strategic priority for many organizations. 

Now let’s set our time machine to the present day. We pull the lever, as the chair shakes and rumbles, and before we land at our destination, we notice the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), data science, large language models (LLMs), and machine learning. 

The technology landscape has changed how organizations leverage data. Artificial intelligence is providing tools like recommender engines that organizations want to use to suggest the next best product for a customer, data science is introducing new ways of forecasting upcoming quarterly and yearly activity, LLMs are transforming the way people work, and machine learning is helping organizations understand customer behavior. All these types of applications place huge demands on great MDM, and as organizations flip the switch on using these technologies, they are quickly impacted by the lack of MDM. So now we see the resurgence of MDM products and expansion of tools and vendors in the space looking to help. 

What are the Cool Kids saying about master data management? This month, our featured Cool Kid is Malcolm Hawker, Head of Data Strategy at Profisee. At Enterprise Data World 2023 last month, Malcolm gave an excellent talk about the future of MDM: 

Check out the other amazing things Malcolm is doing: 

Remember that you can meet Cool Kids like Malcolm Hawker at DATAVERSITY events: 

Want to become one of the Cool Kids? All you need to do is share your ideas with the community! To be active in the community, come to DATAVERSITY webinars, participate in events, and network with like-minded colleagues. 

Next month, I’ll be sharing some thoughts on Data Quality. Stay tuned!