Everyone loves a good three letter acronym (TLA). Certainly the federal government has more than its share, with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Department of Defense (DOD), National Security Agency (NSA) and the Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI), just to name a few.

 

The technology industry is the mother lode of acronyms, and in the field of master data management (MDM) there are more than a few. We have the subsets of MDM known as customer data integration (CDI) and product information management (PIM). In the closely related fields of middleware and integration, we’ve got enterprise information integration (EII); enterprise application integration (EAI); extract, transform and load (ETL); service-oriented architecture (SOA), among others. You get the point.

 

The TLA I’d like to focus on is business process management (BPM). The best definition of BPM that I’ve found is from Howard Smith and Peter Fingar:

A business process management system enables companies to model, deploy and manage mission-critical business processes, that span multiple enterprise applications, corporate departments and business partners - behind the firewall and over the Internet. 1

Thus the relationship between MDM and BPM is pretty clear: a BPM system is the preferred way to integrate your MDM hub into the rest of your enterprise. Why? Because BPM is the most sophisticated type of integration and allows for a high degree of adaptability, manageability, flexibility, reliability and security. It gives the team building the MDM solution the ability to integrate with any number of source and target systems to automate as many business processes as possible, provide for human involvement where needed and provide for collaboration with outside business partners and internal groups, hubs and systems.

 

While it’s certainly possible to integrate your MDM hub with other systems in your enterprise using older integration technology like ETL or EAI; you would lose some important capabilities doing so. For example, if you are building an MDM solution that centralizes all of the customer or product information for your enterprise in a single hub, one of the most important things to enable is a robust “new customer” or “new product” function that can be invoked as a business service from all of the source systems.

 

It’s not enough to just accept new records coming in from the source systems, however. What you really want is a “search-before-create” function so a source system can say to the hub, “I’m about to create a new customer record for XYZ Corporation, 1032 Washington Street, Canton, MA 02021.”Instead of blindly creating that new record in the hub, you want to be able to do a search in the central hub, find that record if it already exists and pass back the existing customer number or other identifier, effectively telling the source system not to create that new record after all, but to use the existing record.

 

The previously described process would be very tough to do using ETL or EAI technology, but using BPM, it’s straightforward. You can build it as a Web service for the entire enterprise to use, whether it be a CRM system looking to create a new customer record, a finance system wanting to raise a new invoice and create the new customer record if needed or a Web store where the customer is coming in and unnecessarily trying to create a new customer record for themselves. All of these scenarios and variations can be handled by a robust new customer process with an embedded search-before-create function developed using any number of currently available BPM tools.

 

Risk management is another great application for this. When a customer gets to a certain point in the sales process (such as signing a large new contract), you’d like to get an updated credit score on the customer using an outside information provider like Dun & Bradstreet (D&B). Using a BPM tool, you can create a process that looks at all of the parameters of your credit policy (only new customers with no credit limit, or existing customers with a credit limit under $200,000), calls out to D&B using a Web service to retrieve certain credit information and scores, and then uses that information to calculate a new or updated credit limit for the customer.

 

Older integration technologies are great at moving data from point A to point B, but your needs for data integration in the context of an MDM solution are likely to be more complex than simple data movement. A BPM solution like the ones being offered by the IT megavendors or by best of breed companies is going to give you much more flexibility and adaptability, as well as manageability, reliability and security.

 

Take the time during the development of your MDM strategy to select the best MDM hub for your needs, to incorporate a robust data quality tool, to provide for enrichment with external content and, of course, to create a data governance organization and process around your MDM solution. But don’t neglect to take a look at the latest and greatest integration technology as well. For most enterprises, that’s going to be a BPM tool that fits into their strategy for migrating to a SOA.

 

Reference:

  1. Peter Fingar and Howard Smith. Business Process Management: The Third Wave. Meghan Kiffer Press, 2006.

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