How to Be an MDM Process Owner

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One of my favorite quotes is from Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." But another of my favorite writers, M. Scott Peck, opens one of his books, "The Road Less Traveled," with the line, "Life is difficult."

As I relate these quotes to the master data management world, an individual or a small group of people in a company can make a big difference, but it isn't going to be easy, and it isn't going to be fast.

I've been an MDM evangelist since 2004 and have worked with a lot of people either becoming MDM process owners or helping shape another person within their company into one. Here are some tips if you've had that role handed to you, are aspiring to it or want to interest someone else in your company in stepping up to it.

First, embrace the political aspects of MDM. I wrote an article in the March 2008 issue of Information Management magazine called "The Politics of Master Data Management and Data Governance," in which I recommended that people start by understanding the political landscape at their company when creating a plan. Who are your likely allies and opponents? How will you get your initial funding and accomplish implementation? And don't forget to plan for data governance, the continuing political framework that takes ownership of the data, manages it proactively, resolves issues and disputes that arise over time, and sets policies for information management, security and privacy, data quality, compliance and so on.

Second, start thinking about your marketing and communication strategy. MDM is about so much more than technology. One of the things I like so much about Gartner's "Seven Building Blocks of MDM: A Framework for Success" is that it focuses first on vision, strategy and metrics, next on governance, organization and processes, and finally on MDM's technology infrastructure.

So the goal is to have a clear vision for MDM that enables the mission for the business as a whole. Spend time with your organization's leadership to understand their vision for the business in general, and see how a strong MDM foundation is required to make that a reality. Only then will your MDM strategy become a reality driven by the metrics needed to build a strong business case. A governance framework will be required to resolve internal political roadblocks and data ownership issues. The process owner (usually supported by a process improvement team) will design the processes for creating, validating and sharing the master data. Lastly, the MDM technology will facilitate the vision and strategy, providing the organization with a way to carry out its processes and govern the master data on behalf of the enterprise as a whole.

None of this will succeed if you don't bring the powers-that-be to the table with buy in. For that, you'll need an internal communications and marketing strategy. You'll need to be an internal evangelist as you explain to different audiences what has to be done and why.

You'll use different communications media for different audiences. For senior management, one-on-one or small group briefings are probably most effective. For other audiences, you'll probably want to have an intranet site with frequent updates and business metrics to keep employees up-to-date on the program's progress. You can also use e-mail newsletters driven by the MDM process owner to inform and engage employees and help them understand the MDM initiative's purpose and progress.

Along the way there will be times when you'll need to assemble the constituencies you need: brown bag lunches, all-manager and all-employee meetings, team meetings, etc. These are important to build morale, inform people of progress and clarify any points of uncertainty. Don't forget, MDM is a highly political activity, and in that environment, rumors tend to flourish. If you don't address them, they can get out of control.

Beyond internally directed marketing and communications, it's a good idea to have organizational change management support. These initiatives, which resemble the large enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management initiatives that came before, benefit from outside change management support. I've seen many companies ignore this aspect, only to find problems later that could have been prevented by organizational change management instead wreaked serious havoc on their project.

So whether you want or need to become an MDM process owner, or are trying to get someone else in your company to step into that role, do your homework, accept the political nature of the position, start thinking about the marketing and communication strategy you'll need and realize that big changes really can come from a small number of people.

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