One of the many “hidden benefits” of a successful master data management (MDM) strategy is the contribution it can make to your enterprise’s move toward a service-oriented architecture (SOA).

 

The definition of master data management that I used in my first article for DM Review is:

MDM is a set of disciplines, processes and technologies for ensuring the accuracy, completeness, timeliness and consistency of multiple domains of enterprise data - across applications, systems and databases and across multiple business processes, functional areas, organizations, geographies and channels.

This definition highlights the heavy emphasis on integration - at the application or database level and at the business process level - that a successful MDM initiative requires.

 

Generally, the first two things I ask about when discussing someone’s MDM strategy are “What’s the data quality component of your MDM strategy?” and “What does the integration component look like?”

 

The technology for implementing an SOA has advanced so much in the last five years that it would be shortsighted to integrate MDM with the source systems and downstream applications of your enterprise using older methods of integration.

 

However, just as I still run into people who aren’t planning to incorporate data quality tools into their MDM solution, I occasionally talk to companies that are planning to integrate MDM into their enterprise using technology from the late 1990s or early 2000s - or even worse, through point-to-point custom code.

 

SOA-based integration offers so much more than simple movement of data from “point A” to “point B.”You can create and orchestrate business processes that span multiple applications within and outside the enterprise and then secure, manage and monitor those processes. By using MDM as a foundation for SOA, you can be sure you’re providing high quality, proactively governed data to the rest of the enterprise through the services you create.

 

The combination of SOA and MDM is powerful. SOA is designed to add flexibility to IT infrastructures in creating new business processes or modifying existing processes. But all too often, underlying data quality issues prevent the new business processes from achieving their goal.

 

On the other hand, MDM is designed to aggregate and cleanse critical corporate master data. Having separate “single versions of the truth” for customers, suppliers and products (each in its own silo), however, doesn’t solve the underlying “islands of data” problem. If anything, it can perpetuate it or make it worse.

 

The combination of MDM and SOA can transform the way business embraces and uses technology. It can help the business move toward better alignment with IT and help to close the business execution gap.

 

IT can move beyond being a cost center and truly become a partner with the business in innovation through carefully planned, tightly executed projects, new processes, tighter integration and better management of systems, processes and data.

 

So what would that look like? To deliver value using MDM and SOA, I recommend three layers of abstraction (on top of the underlying data sources themselves):

 

  • Data services (basic operations for create/read/update/delete),
  • Business services (business process management [BPM], reusable business rules) and
  • User interface (UI) services (e.g., portlets).

The data service layer is a combination of simple or “atomic” data services, with more sophisticated composite data services, which might combine several of the simpler data services as part of one more complex or complete data service.

 

The business service layer is created using a BPM tool, which resembles prior “workflow” products, but offers more sophisticated capabilities for connecting to data sources, and publishing robust, reusable services for use by packaged or custom composite applications.

 

The next and final layer is the UI or composite application layer, which strings together off-the-shelf and custom packages, user interface elements, portlets, etc. This layer is where the end users initiate processes, approve results and perform the bulk of their day-to-day work.

 

By having clean data (i.e., accurate, complete, timely and consistent) at the data service layer, the business services will be more reliable, trustworthy and useful. The applications built or integrated on top of the business service layer will be more innovative, take less time and money to build and test and will be more flexible and less expensive to maintain.

 

SOA without MDM can certainly be attempted, but the first time the “create new customer” process fails (by creating a new customer record in the enterprise resource planning system when it should have found an existing customer record instead) due to data quality issues, the cry will go out - “We can’t make SOA work without data we can count on.” As we’ve seen over the past few years, the way to achieve that result is through an MDM hub, with tight integration to and from the critical source systems that drive the company, plus a robust data quality component, enrichment from external content providers and proactive data governance of the enterprise’s master data.

 

To borrow a phrase, MDM and SOA are truly “two great tastes that taste great together.”

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