For years I've been recommending that companies investigating or implementing MDM should include business process management in their plans.

BPM allows an organization to model, deploy and manage mission-critical processes that span multiple applications, departments and business partners - behind the firewall and over the Internet. In the case of MDM, it lets them create sophisticated processes for common functions such as "add a new customer" that may span many systems, including  CRM, MDM, risk management, ERP systems and a data warehouse. Imagine a scenario where a sales representative brings up a prospect record on her CRM screen and clicks the "promote to customer" button. This initiates a call to the BPM system and passes along all the data needed for that process. The BPM application then runs the process and orchestrates it across the risk management, MDM, ERP and data warehousing systems. The process accesses the MDM hub to cleanse and standardize the data and to check that the new record won't result in a duplicate. It next checks the company's credit through the risk management application. Then and only then, the BPM system will add a new customer record to the ERP system and the warehouse and update the status of the CRM record from prospect to customer.

I think of BPM as the foundation of a successful strategy for integrating an MDM hub to other source and target systems in the enterprise. It allows the design of processes for day-to-day data stewardship, such as routing "gray area" matches that are not close enough to be accepted automatically to a steward for investigation and resolution.

All of your data governance processes can be modeled and deployed in a BPM engine and tightly integrated with your MDM hub. This provides several advantages:

  • Efficiency. BPM tools excel at bulletproof automation of complex processes and can dramatically increase the efficiency and productivity of data management resources.
  • Repeatability. Top-notch data stewards know their data intimately and can quickly find and fix anomalies. But a downfall of  manual data governance is that this person becomes unavailable or is lured to another company. BPM engines mitigate this risk. 
  • Auditability. The business activity monitoring component of BPM ensures that every step of every process is recorded and traceable to its original input at any time.
  • Scalability. I worked with one client that had 50 people doing manual data stewardship for only part of their business. In order to scale, you've got to work smarter, not harder. I usually estimate one to two data stewards for each $1 billion in total revenue, but that's assuming that as much as possible has been automated.
  • Transparency. Because data governance processes are modeled in a BPM tool, it's easier to get sign-off from business owners. BPM makes business processes transparent, improving visibility and efficiency, ending  the "trust me" risks of data governance.

Where are MDM vendors in supporting BPM? All of the "megavendors" (IBM, Oracle and SAP) have their own BPM tool (in some cases, more than one). But those tools may not be integrated out of the box with their MDM hubs to the degree you would expect.
So look carefully at the big vendors' MDM hubs to see how easy it will be to create your own data governance or basic create/read/update/delete processes using their BPM tool. Look into the level of effort required to make new processes in the BPM tool integrate tightly with the MDM hub and data quality products.

The smaller vendors don't (usually) have their own BPM tools but do offer straightforward integration with them. Here's a quick summary of the best-of-breed MDM vendors relative to BPM:

  • Siperian offers built-in integration with Lombardi Teamworks and Oracle/BEA AquaLogic BPM products.
  • Initiate Systems has integrated with numerous BPM platforms to synthesize master data from externally orchestrated business processes and is developing integration with the BPM capabilities of Informatica PowerCenter based on joint customer use.
  • D&B Purisma has taken a vendor-neutral approach to BPM and can integrate with the major best-of-breed BPM vendors. Purisma also has some workflow capabilities built into their data stewardship user interface. 
  • Cordys, a BPM specialist based in the Netherlands, provides some MDM capabilities as part of its business operations platform.

It's a real challenge for MDM vendors (and for companies purchasing  MDM solutions) to interact seamlessly with all of the BPM tools on the market. But the effort can be very rewarding, resulting in a high performance, automated MDM hub that is tightly integrated with other important enterprise applications via company-specific data governance processes that are efficient, repeatable, auditable, scalable and transparent.

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