Historically, there has been economic and political pressure to stay the course with your incumbent systems integrator for enterprise-scale projects. Such momentum (or inertia) was logical given the good working relationship established along with the economies of scale enjoyed by both sides (reduced selling costs and ramp-up time/fees due to insider status). However, what if your preferred systems integrator (SI) partner does not have any project experience in the rapidly evolving customer data integration (CDI)-master data management (MDM) technology arena or is tremendously short-staffed in this area? What do you do?

CDI-MDM projects typically incur a substantial amount of systems integration services in their first 12 to 24 months, as businesses wire up their data sources into the enterprise's master data hub(s). During 2004-05, CDI Institute research found that the typical Global 5000 enterprise spent an average of $1.2 million for CDI-MDM software solutions - with an additional investment of four times this in SI services. That's the bad news. The good news is that CDI-MDM is one of few remaining growth areas for both software vendors and SIs. Supply and demand is kicking into high gear.

An extreme scarcity of hands-on CDI-MDM project and product experience currently exists, driving blended rates for such services to three to four times their prior rates. Compared to this time last year, we now have an additional 2,500+ product-specific consultants who have gone through IBM WCC (DWL), Initiate Systems Identity Hub, Oracle CDH, Oracle UCM and Siperian Hub training. The relative scarcity of individuals with even one CDI-MDM project under their belts is startling, as are the prices for the services of such individuals. The current shortage lends itself to the same scenario suffered five to 10 years ago with SAP's ABAP 4GL - inflated prices and inflated resumes, with many junior SI staff spinning up to speed at clients' expense. Why are the services of systems integrators so vital to the success of our CDI-MDM projects?

SIs are often necessary to sell C-level execs. Without C-level support, lines of business (LOBs) will find it difficult to contribute the funding and resources necessary to launch a CDI-MDM initiative - resulting in the status quo, with each business unit continuing to address the issue at the division level (if at all). Politically speaking, creating a coalition of the willing LOB managers is a prerequisite to getting C-level buy-in. CXOs don't have time for details; however, if a CXO's direct reports are lobbying for a solution to a particular problem, then the CXO will listen and take action, for example, if multiple LOB leaders are agitating for a unified view of the customer for cross-selling or regulatory compliance.

SIs are needed to help transform IT organizations. To a greater degree than traditional IT initiatives, organizational readiness and acceptance of the new CDI-MDM technologies have a huge impact on the successful sustainability of large-scale CDI-MDM initiatives. Most IT organizations live in a state of anarchy where few processes are shared across system domain. A small percentage of IT organizations are functioning as IT monarchies where they dictate shared technology resources and processes across limited applications. Ideally, most enterprises would like to have their IT organizations operating so that LOBs are actually sharing master data and processes or the processes are truly integrated end to end for the lifecycle management of corporate master data, with metrics in place to manage this.

The SI partner is a critical ambassadorial function to plan for IT organizational change management to support the cross-LOB CDI-MDM efforts. The SI team can work with business leadership to design and refine the future state business processes associated with new CDI-MDM commitments in the move to a more centralized approach to master data as a corporate asset. After initial development, SIs can help IT and business better coordinate by facilitating mutual participation in the capture of business heuristics/rules for the resolution of master data match/merge/collision issues and ongoing commitment to update both applications and business processes to leverage the shared corporate asset via master data stored in data hubs.

Given the substantial investment businesses undertake with their SI partners for their CDI-MDM projects, this cost component must be given close scrutiny - not only in an effort to contain costs but also to ensure success of this vital infrastructure investment. Preparing for CDI-MDM talent shortages now is the savvy way to avoiding the CDI-MDM money pit later. 

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