Jignesh Shah is VP of middleware product marketing at Software AG, a role that puts him at the frontline of the vendor’s master data management solutions and plans, including last year’s acquisition of Data Foundations. Lately, he’s pushed for an MDM approach that includes more emphasis on process and business input. We caught up with Shah in a phone call on the process approach advocated in a new book he's co-authored and what it’ll take to make that come to mutual fruition for IT departments, business stakeholders and the end-users of information in throughout the enterprise.

What’s the main takeaway that you’d want MDM practitioners to get from the book?
Specifically, this … is about a fundamentally new and different approach to MDM, what we’re calling the process-driven approach. Really, MDM should be driven from the point of view of the bottom-line business benefit that it delivers and not primarily by data quality and data management metrics, which has sort of been the tradition with master data management.

How have you defined that process-driven MDM term?
I think it’s easiest to contrast it with the current approach. Right now, there’s this data-driven approach, and traditionally it’s been a question of addressing the data management or data quality. That’s fine, but when you have pinned that as the objective, the focus tends to be to look at the system-side, to figure out where the data is disjointed. Then, ROI gets focused on things like duplicate reduction, improvement validation, things like that. So it’s framed as an IT problem, and that leaves business thinking they don’t have to get involved. Contrastingly, the process-driven approach is more of a business discipline, one that supports process improvement rather than just data improvement. Now, your objective shifts from system landscapes to defining what quality data is needed by specific processes. The end result is that, ultimately, your data and data quality do improve, but it comes along with how you improve process KPIs and ROI. And this process makes it a lot easier to get business involved.

So, what is enabling this shift to more of a business-side and process approach? Is it somewhat a sign of MDM maturity and enterprises catching up with what analysts have been talking about for quite some time?
Well, there definitely is that maturity angle, and you see that frankly in a lot of IT disciplines currently, where you’re able to look at it more from a business-side problem. But there are some aspects specific to MDM that are worth noting, too. One, in the past the MDM focus was on the downstream stuff – feeding good data into a data warehouse and so on. You kind of left the mess upstream in its place. With an operational view of MDM, we’re more able to answer those questions of “Why are we doing this with data and projects?” And with that maturity, there has been recognition around data governance: who owns the data, who are the stakeholders, who needs to be involved throughout. Then, you start asking questions about how this data is being consumed, and this process-driven approach makes it a whole lot easier to answer these bigger governance questions.

There’s a big emphasis on the business-side with the process approach. Is it a matter of IT people beefing up on their business focus, or is it something where business needs an entirely new understanding of the MDM concept? How do you prepare both sides?
On the IT side, you certainly need to bring in people who understand the business processes. But definitely, you need to make business an equal partner with the process approach. We’re not expecting business executives to become MDM experts; that’s what IT is for. But they do need an understanding of how [MDM] is impacting their processes. There’s an element of education on both sides, on the impact of data for everyone in the enterprise today and how that can be improved.

What do you see as the maturity rate with this process-driven approach? There seems to be a learning curve.
It’s interesting to think about. I was at a Gartner MDM Summit earlier this year … and invariably at these summits in years past aspects like decision-making were outlined as the number-one driver of MDM. This year, for the very first time, the number-one driver of MDM from attendees was process improvement. It was gratifying to hear that response from something we’ve really be talking about for over a year. From that awareness point of view, I think [MDM maturity] is going to happen quickly, and it’s already happening. Now, in terms of actually executing the process path, there’s an unavoidable learning curve. It’ll be slow, and help will be needed to try to transition to that process-driven preparation and understanding from both IT and business.

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