Any of us who have been around the corporate IT world for more than five to 10 years know that there are cycles associated with both economic trends and technology "sea change" adoption phases (e.g., client/server application development versus mainframe/minicomputer). Clearly, it is advisable to keep your eye on the future to best leverage your career opportunities - especially given the "doom and gloom" of IT job projections by many of the pundits relative to the traditional IT skills of application development, maintenance and management, which are prone to economic trends such as offshored outsourcing.

All the major analyst firms have identified customer data integration (CDI) as a major trend for the foreseeable future (e.g., Gartner and Forrester released their first Magic Quadrant and Wave, respectively, in mid-2005). Further proof is IBM's acquisition of CDI pioneer DWL, in addition to each of the major application-package vendors launching major CDI initiatives - e.g., Oracle (Customer Data Hub), SAP (SAP Master Data Management) and Siebel (Siebel Universal Customer Master). A final proof point is the accelerating investment by the systems integrators in building dedicated practices around this business issue - e.g., Accenture, Alliance Consulting, BearingPoint, BusinessEdge, Sierra Atlantic, Tata, et al.

Conceptually, there are two paths for an IT professional to consider: product-neutral or product-specific. Centers of excellence (COEs) have been a mainstay for large corporate IT groups to deliver specific expertise via a series of "hired gun" experts in both conceptual areas and product-specific skills. Thus we have COEs for SAP and Siebel, as well as COEs for application integration (a.k.a. data integration COE). Lately there has been an uptick in the creation of COEs for both master data management (MDM) and CDI.

In any case, the savvy IT professional will hitch their wagon to this "technology train" and diversify their skills portfolio in both product-neutral and product-specific CDI and MDM skills. One needs to be cautious to not align oneself with a dead-end product line or vendor.

While there will clearly be career growth opportunities in the major product-specific areas (e.g., IBM Customer Center [formerly DWL Customer], Oracle CDH, SAP MDM and Siebel UMC), ancillary IT positions will benefit from the halo effect of increasing major corporate investments in CDI for the next several years. These additional product-specific areas include data quality tools, such as IBM WebSphere QualityStage, SAS/DataFlux and Trillium as well as middleware tools such as IBM WebSphere connectors and WebSphere DataStage, TIBCO and Vitria. The middleware tools are required to connect the various data sources that comprise a CDI federation of data and application sources and targets.

It is a widely held belief that the best career skill portfolio includes a healthy mix of both product-specific and product-neutral skills. The upcoming job market for certain CDI- and MDM-related expertise will create major demand for the following corporate IT positions during the next three to five years:

  • CDI Project Lead: This is a classical project manager with full life cycle experience in application development using Java, J2EE, EJB and XML skills. Although it is desirable to have experience with the specific data model and development toolkit of a specific CDI solution (IBM Customer Center [formerly DWL Customer], Initiate Systems Identity Hub, Oracle CDH, SAP MDM, Siebel UCM, Siperian MRM, etc.), more often that not, an enterprise architect or enterprise data warehouse designer will attend CDI vendor training to pick up the product-specific skills. Such project leads work with the central IT group's enterprise infrastructure team to define and implement the business services related to customer data management that will comprise the IT group's initial efforts in service-oriented architecture (SOA).
  • Data Steward: This person is a domain/business area-specific expert responsible for the quality of specific data entities for a subset of the enterprise customer data model. In large corporations, there may exist a data steward/program manager who sets overall process and policy standards to formalize the business's overall data governance policy processes; additionally, subject-matter managers may further divide responsibilities for meta data and master reference data (topologies, semantics, business meta data repository, etc.). It is also assumed that this individual participates in the design of the corporate data dictionary and meta data framework (a.k.a. managed meta data environment).
  • Enterprise Data Architect: This senior IT manager develops and facilitates strategies in the area of system, data and application integration of the CDI-supporting infrastructure, especially the middleware and related adapters/connectors to the various CDI data sources. The EDA often works to ensure that interfaces are properly identified, designed, implemented and maintained for such data and application integration. Depending upon the various supporting roles in the organization, this individual (or team) may also participate in the design and implementation of an enterprise application integration (EAI) control layer to support the enterprise's SOA efforts. Part of the responsibility is to develop component/interface standards and procedures as well as legacy integration initiatives (e.g., database gateway and extract, transform and load [ETL] solutions) to support the CDI efforts. Additionally, this role provides technical oversight and direction to other internal and external resources during the selection and implementation of CDI-related software such as data profiling and data cleansing tools. Other roles are to identify common integration patterns among business units and to provide the rollout strategy for enabling reuse among the business units (e.g., common business services such as CDI functions to update privacy preference and identify customer) - although this role is increasingly being tasked to the CDI project lead (who may wear multiple hats). In summary, the EDA is responsible for shaping the overall enterprise data strategy, including the enterprise master customer data strategy.
  • Enterprise Data Modeler: This person typically resides in information architecture organization and is responsible for complex enterprise data modeling efforts to insure that subject area data models (whether CDI registry, federated data model or fully persisted master database) align with the overall enterprise information architecture. This individual works closely with the architecture, technical and business teams to collect and translate business requirements into enterprise logical models (and in some IT organizations, works with the specific technical database administration teams to translate to physical models).

As noted in an article from DMReview.com on September 15, 2005 titled "Avoiding the CDI 'Money Pit' - Pick Your (Systems Integration) Partner Wisely," it is important to realize that there is a scarcity of hands-on CDI experience at this point. Therefore, the current expertise shortage lends itself to the same scenario we had five to 10 years ago when SAP's ABAP 4GL was in dire shortage - i.e., inflated prices and resumes in addition to lots of junior systems integrator staff spinning up to speed at clients' expense. At the current rate of SI training and partnering, by year end 2005 there will be an additional 1,500+ product-specific consultants available on the market, albeit with little real-world experience in the mainstay CDI solutions. Preparing for CDI talent shortages now is the savvy way for IT professionals to diversify their IT skills portfolio and leverage the fact that CDI may increasingly be considered "career durability insurance." 

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