Data management holds master key to compliance

Companies cook the books at their own peril. That’s the principal lesson we’ve learned from Enron and other corporate scandals these past few years. Even when thievery’s not the issue, the messier your official system of records is, the more likely you are to incur the wrath of regulators, litigators and the financial community in general.

Compliance is the art of making sure that your organization’s data-management practices pass muster with authorities and stakeholders. Where compliance is concerned, data quality, integrity and security are everything. If you can’t produce operational data of sufficient completeness, validity, accuracy and granularity, you won’t be able to prove you’ve complied with the next regulatory mandate. And your corporate brass might not be able to prove their innocence.

Master data management (MDM) is the key to corporate compliance. MDM refers to the infrastructure, tools and best practices for governance of official corporate records that may be scattered across diverse databases and other repositories. MDM helps you assure that data has been generated, vetted, processed, protected and transmitted according to a consistent set of policies and controls.

MDM has become the grand unification field for all data-management technologies. Increasingly, enterprise IT groups are laying out MDM strategies that encompass relational databases, data warehouses and profiling; quality tools, including data mapping and transformation engines; business intelligence, enterprise information integration (EII), extract transform load as well as metadata management, reporting and auditing. Vendors are scrambling to reposition their data-management products under this new umbrella.

Expect to see ongoing consolidation in the MDM market as vendors assemble more comprehensive product suites and aim to strengthen their compliance-value proposition. Dominant data-management vendors will continue to beef up their data quality and metadata management offerings. For example, IBM fields one of the strongest MDM suites on the market. It has made several data-management acquisition in recent years — most notably, EII pioneer Ascential — to build up its MDM portfolio. Recently, IBM acquired Unicorn Solutions, a leading provider of enterprise tools that manage metadata. Such management is critical to compliance, which requires organizations to understand where data originates, how that data maps to other data, and how, when and by whom it was modified.

Also, Business Objects, a business intelligence market leader, recently rolled out several new and enhanced products under its banner of enterprise information management. Although it doesn’t explicitly use the term MDM, Business Objects now fields a comprehensive MDM suite. With the latest product announcements, it has added to its portfolio critical EII, metadata management, data cleansing, data lineage assessment, data-modification impact analysis and data visualization features.

Other business intelligence vendors — such as Cognos, SAS, Informatica and Hyperion — have similar directions. Data reporting, query and visualization tools from these vendors provide critical links in the compliance chain.

One can’t understate the importance of business intelligence in the MDM value proposition. Ultimately, proving your company’s compliance with regulations depends on persuading human beings that operational data is clean, consistent and accurate and presenting that data in a clear, compelling format.

However, MDM is no magic bullet. It’s equivalent to service-oriented architecture or enterprise service bus in the sense that it defines an ideal high-level architecture that can be complex, costly and difficult to implement and administer.

MDM is a growing body of best practices for managing distributed data resources as a unified corporate asset. Without MDM, companies can’t prove that scattered corporate records constitute a “single source of truth.” Without an unimpeachable official system of records, your lawyers will have to work twice as hard to prove your organization is complying with the letter of the law.

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