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The problem that often thwarts a master data management (MDM) initiative in the enterprise is a “semantic disconnect” in how data exists and is managed, said an industry expert.

Mark Smith, CEO & executive vice-president of research from Pleasanton, Calif.-based Ventana Research Inc., said there are a variety of data challenges across an enterprise that create barriers to achieving that single version of the truth. “Not having a common and independent set of reference data can create a lot of havoc in organizations today,” said Smith.

Such challenges include discrepancies in how data is reported and inconsistency in the code and attributes; content data that exists in varying formats; different IT systems and versions that house data; and changes to businesses as a result of mergers and acquisitions and department consolidations.

A recent study by Ventana Research showed that enterprises found incompatible tools to be the greatest barrier to MDM, followed by insufficient data usage policies.

Due to the myriad challenges that enterprises face, Smith said the perception is that MDM is too big a battle to take on, but it’s really something that should be done in iterative steps towards incremental improvement.

“MDM has been one of those topics that has been caught up a little bit in the tornado of confusion,” said Smith.

The study by Ventana also found that 57 per cent of the organizations are still trying to understand their data issues.

Part of the struggle in an MDM initiative is figuring out what to do with existing technologies like ERP and CRM systems that the organization has been using for decades, said Smith. “The complexity of these architectures have brought up key questions as to where investments should be made,” he said. One option is to rip them out and upgrade them with newer technologies. The other, the most popular approach, is to continue to maintain the systems and attempt to make good use of the data they house, said Smith.

The study also identified ERP and CRM systems as the top areas where enterprises recognized that significant investment had been made over the years.

Smith said organizations will often build a “blueprint” or architectural reference with which to drive an MDM initiative across application data efforts. Such a blueprint will examine interface points between IT systems to ensure all data sources are included.

But the way in which data flows through an organization should also form part of that architecture, said Smith. Stepping back to survey current flow of data might reveal a lack of streamlined processes between analysts and executives. “We don’t want to be holding down our businesses or decision-making by having data that needs to be approved or deployed back into our system,” said Smith.

Good consistency and management of data are the foundation for customer data integration and product information management initiatives, said Smith. 

Part of successful MDM is choosing the right technology capable of supporting a broad range of business problems whether customer data integration or product information management, said Ravi Shankar, author and senior director of product marketing with Foster City, Calif.-based MDM vendor Siperian Inc.

“In many cases, the need for an MDM implementation is dictated by the business problem at hand, and business problems don’t constrain themselves to a single data domain,” said Shankar.

There are two distinct approaches to MDM, he said. The application approach begins with a specific problem around which a data model is build to support it. But a platform approach takes the reverse tack, said Shankar, by starting with a data model around which everything else can be flexibility configured. The latter, he said, can evolve and scale.

In summary, Smith said the requirements to maximizing success in MDM is to have a solid program that includes investment in technology and business, obtaining buy-in, using the right technology and maintaining a healthy dialogue between all stakeholders. “It will help us all drive better trust and drive better improvement to the value of our IT project contributing to great bottom line business value,” said Smith.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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