The Figure 8: Essentials for Master Data Management, Part 1

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by Christine Denney

After I finished presenting The Figure 8: Essentials for Master Data Management at Enterprise Data World, I had a whole new set of questions and thoughts arise around getting started with MDM or expanding an existing MDM base.  Before diving into the new material, I wanted to look back on how the “Figure 8” came to be.

A Topic is Born

The inspiration for the topic came from a night of insomnia.  (Isn’t that where the best material surfaces?)  I had the task of taking my experience from ‘little e’ implementations and coming up with patterns for a new ‘Big E’ initiative.  The stress was starting to build. Where would I start? What do I wish that I had known from the beginning?  I reflected on all of the questions I had during earlier implementations.  How I wished that someone had a checklist or a path of steps to follow!  I started thinking through a logical set of steps and what you needed to figure out at each stage.

It must have been sleep deprivation, but Alanis Morrisette’s song “It Figures” started going through my head.  I took it as irony – what seems bad, may actually be okay.  (Kind of like MDM – it can seem daunting at some points, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.)  At the end of the night, I had 8 steps that needed to be addressed for MDM efforts, all beginning with “Figure out…”  Somewhere in the madness, the word “figure” plus the eight points equaled  ice skating and the “Figure 8” was born.  I am sure that definitely just crossed the TMI (too much information) line!

Defining Master Data Management

Before we dive into the steps, there is a key question for us to answer – what is MDM and what isn’t MDM? Unfortunately, that seemingly simple question is often followed by a barrage of followups.  Is all “important data” considered “Master Data”?  Can master data exist within a single department or business area or is it only for “Enterprise” data?  Does MDM imply a tool solution?

The definitions that I align with focus on the broad spectrum of enabling capabilities and disciplines associated with an on-going program, rather than limiting MDM to be a tool or a project.  They also talk in terms of managing the non-transactional data of the Enterprise (or enterprise).

Because of all of the hype and ambiguity around this subject, there are days when I would like to ban the term “Master Data Management” from our vocabularies.

What’s wrong with the term Master Data Management?

Well, imagine this scenario. You walk into a meeting with your boss and you are told “We need to do Master Data Management!”  It sounds harmless (albeit scary) enough, right?  There are a few things wrong here:

  1. You don’t “do” master data management. It isn’t a check box or quick project that you complete. It really is a capability that you mature over time. Albert Einstein said it perfectly when he said that “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”   We aren’t approaching MDM in the right way.  It sort of sounds like a “thing to do”, so naturally it is approached that way.
  2. It assumes that you don’t already have some management of key information assets that may just need more mature processes or governance around it. (or just better marketing around its existence)
  3. It’s I.T. speak and it doesn’t hit the true value that is added with MDM – addressing business needs.  It seems like something that you can do in the absence of a business process.

My solution?  Ban that term – at least during conversations with the business.  It’s not “MDM”, it’s now a resource to help you determine vendor spend or a way to address the issues with incorrect customer mailings.  MDM doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so why make it sound like an independent thing?

Now that we have a foundation for what MDM is and isn’t, we can move on to the 8-step process for approaching it.

Essential #1: Figure Out Your Goal

I used to hate the question “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?”  “I DON’T KNOW!” I wanted to scream. “But I hope it is not sitting here trying to answer this same question!”  We don’t always know what lies ahead and an unknown journey can seem scary.  But MDM, like life, does require a little bit of introspection.  You have to understand why you are doing it.

Years ago, I didn’t understand that the “where do you see yourself” question was about examining your motives.  What was truly leading you down a path and what did you think that you would (or hoped you would) find?  The same kind of thinking holds true for MDM.  You have to have a reason – a purpose – for embarking on that journey.

So here is where you ask yourself “What am I hoping to accomplish?” (and the answer needs to be more than just “So I can check it off of my list of industry buzzwords.”)  There must be some business challenge that led you here.  Were there numbers that just didn’t add up?  Expenses that didn’t seem necessary?  Reports that just weren’t consistent?  Manual matching of spreadsheet data too cumbersome?  Whatever the reason, it became your motivation for improvement.

So this first step pays homage to the wisdom of Stephen Covey and his “7 Habits” – Begin with the end in mind. ©  You need to have an idea of what things need to look like in the future… the new world order.

That’s it for the first installment.  Please let me know your thoughts and check back for steps 2 through 8!


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