Since the first survey from The Information Difference in 2008, much has changed in master data management, both in technology and in implementation expertise and experience. In particular, MDM has graduated from a novel innovative technology to become relatively mature and accepted. It is increasingly being adopted by multinational organizations to tackle their data inconsistency nightmares and deliver reliable, trusted business information.

As the market develops, many media outlets have offered advice on how to embark on MDM projects and outlined what their authors believe to be best practices. But how reliable is this advice? It’s time to ask real-life practitioners of MDM programs to share their views and experiences. So what is the current position, based on the feedback from those who have real-world experience of implementing MDM?

A recent survey conducted by analyst firm The Information Difference of 130 organizations worldwide (68 percent with revenues exceeding U.S. $ 1 billion) provided some concrete facts.

To start, 53 percent of those who took the survey have live operational MDM implementations and the mean age of these implementations is 3.9 years. Furthermore, 81 percent reported that their operational MDM implementation was broadly successful, a significant improvement over 2011’s survey result of 54 percent. So MDM is indeed coming of age and becoming more widespread.

Quite encouragingly, 64 percent developed a documented business case prior to embarking upon their MDM implementation. However, the downside is that 32 percent started their implementation without a business case.  Given the costs involved in MDM projects, this is remarkable. One cannot avoid the conclusion that some organizations appear to be happy to fly blind.

Significantly, 59 percent of the live implementations are jointly owned by business and IT, with a further 19 percent led solely by the business. This is certainly encouraging, as best practices and results from our previous research indicate that business leadership, in partnership with IT, is a key factor in success for MDM projects. 

Recently there has been a shift in vendor hype toward support for multidomain MDM. This is in stark contrast to a couple of years back, when most vendors were promoting product information management or customer data integration as Valhalla. In the present survey, only 16 percent were focusing on a single domain, with the majority opting for multidomain scope. Indeed, 46 percent had more than four data domains. This mirrors conclusions from our previous research and reinforces the message that MDM is a multidomain activity.

In a similar vein, just 9 percent of the implementations were restricted to a silo approach, involving a single line of business or department.  Fifty-nine percent had elected to go enterprise-wide — an encouraging result, showing that MDM is truly moving beyond pilot projects and into the mainstream. Indeed, most organizations now understand that to be effective their MDM initiatives must be enterprise-wide.

But what is the cost of this MDM activity? The organizations surveyed committed a median of five full-time equivalents for the initial implementation, supported by a median of four FTEs for ongoing maintenance.  We believe these are useful guidelines for those embarking on MDM implementations. However, this does need to be put in context of the fact that 68 percent of the organizations surveyed had revenue last year above U.S. $1 billion. 

What are the most frequently mentioned barriers to having a successful MDM implementation? The two most frequently cited lay in the areas of internal politics and poor data quality. 

So what advice would the organizations in our survey offer to those starting out? They mentioned three recurring themes: start small but think big; there is nothing like initial real-world successes to keep the fires lit; and start with governance and policies, rather than tools.

What, then, can we conclude? Experience from the real world reveals that MDM initiatives are broadly successful. Many have been live now for a respectable number of years, standing the test of time. Most organizations are implementing MDM enterprise-wide, across multiple data domains. They are generally led jointly by business and IT, rather than being IT initiatives alone.

They don't come cheap and are not one-off projects, but rather require substantial, ongoing support. Encouragingly, more organizations are producing a documented business case prior to embarking on their MDM initiative. Disturbingly, a significant number of organizations still appear to be happy to “fly blind.”

While MDM has reached maturity, don't forget the business case!