Data management has more than its fair share of three-letter acronyms: BPM, CPM, EIM, MDM, EDM and CDI. Why the resurgence of acronym activity around data management, and what does it all mean? For some period of time, IT professionals have been focused on cleansing and organizing their company's data. Within the act of organizing data are complex tasks such as determining which architecture to employ and the overall design of the warehouse, identifying the data sources and obtaining access, validating and cleansing the data, etc. Most of these activities have fallen under the umbrella term "data warehousing."

Today, however, business end users have gotten into the act and are very concerned about what information is made available to them for decision-making, how easy is it to access and how reliable it is. With this audience in mind, vendors, consultants and analysts have outlined particular initiatives that address the business need for readily available, clean and consistent data for strategic decision-making. Because vendors, consultants and analysts rarely agree with one another, this has resulted in a proliferation of three-letter acronyms, many of which address the same underlying tasks.

Let's start with BPM, meaning business performance management (although some analysts use it to mean business process management, something entirely different). From a data management perspective, BPM is really about the streamlined collection of planning data and merging it with structured and consistent summary-level transaction data to determine how the company performed against targets in key areas. If the company already has a warehouse, the transactional source data from a collection of disparate systems is already in place. If they don't have a warehouse, most BPM systems can create one themselves. In effect, BPM is an extension of data warehousing with a strategic business focus and purpose-built applications sitting on top.

CPM (corporate performance management) and EPM (enterprise performance management) are identical to BPM. The only difference is in the vendors and analysts that choose to support one acronym or the other. I prefer business performance management because BPM can apply to any business, large or small, including not-for-profits. Corporate performance management seems to imply it is only for the benefit of large corporations.

Now let's look at EIM (enterprise information management). Its stated purpose is very similar to BPM - to give a comprehensive view of the business utilizing accurate and consistent data to enable better decision-making. "A single version of the truth" is a marketing tagline used by both EIM and BPM vendors. How do these initiatives differ? While BPM is very business and applications focused, EIM is more IT and tools focused. The main components of EIM address metadata management, data integration and data quality. In effect, EIM is about preparing the data for further analysis by BI tools or BPM applications. As you would expect, different vendors lead with one term or the other based primarily on their backgrounds as tool or application vendors. A complete business information solution really requires elements of both EIM and BPM. Some BPM vendors include elements of EIM in their offerings and vice versa.

Customer data integration (CDI) is gaining momentum as a corporate initiative, but how does it differ from data integration in general, or even customer relationship management (CRM), for that matter? The purpose of CDI is to provide a unified view of the customer across multiple channels or product lines, especially when the data resides in different systems. CRM is about understanding and meeting the needs of your clients. CDI aids and abets CRM initiatives, much like EIM paves the way for BPM. Most companies create a CDI hub, which provides integrated, accurate and consistent customer data to a range of applications, sort of single version of the truth for customer information. CDI is often part of a larger master data management (MDM) initiative.

MDM can also mean metadata management. Metadata management has been around for quite a while, and it puts the data into its business and technical context. This enables end users to make sense of the data, even when it is coming from disparate sources. In some instances, MDM goes beyond creating a consistent set of data descriptors; it actually merges the data into one central validated hub that the applications can draw upon. CDI, for example, is the customer-focused subset of MDM. EDM, or enterprise dimension management, is focused on standardizing and synchronizing key dimensions used by financial reporting and BPM systems such as organizational hierarchies and the chart of accounts. Which flavor of MDM you need depends on the business applications you are focused on. BPM, which by definition provides a holistic view of the company and, therefore, needs input from multiple systems, is helping drive the more rapid adoption of MDM.

Many of these areas are similar, overlapping or interlinked. To reduce the acronym confusion, simply focus on the business problem you are trying to solve. That will determine which applications you need to focus on, which in turn will define the data management requirements for success. The good news is that there is a growing range of solutions to choose from, and most significantly, both end users and executives are finally recognizing the importance of appropriate data management and governance. 

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