As we head into our Spring MDM-CDI Summit at the San Francisco Marriott next week, we figured it was time for a pulse check on the industry as well as the conference itself. While both user and vendor interest is on par with recent shows, there have been shifts in both landscapes that are food for thought whether you're planning to attend or not. Conference Chair Aaron Zornes of the MDM-CDI Institute has been immersed in his topic of choice as usual, and a recent conversation with Aaron underlined some of the issues to look for.Let's start with the vendors, where continued investment and an early shakeout continue. (For a reference point, have a look at Zornes' MDM Milestones column of a year ago.) Among the smaller vendors, a couple have come and gone already, bowing out due to internal development costs not ready to be supported in a nascent market. In some cases, these players returned to their roots; one or two others have lowered their sights to a supporting MDM service role in areas such as address cleansing. Still others are cozying up in roles complementary to ubiquitous products such as and Microsoft CRM.

This is not to say the smaller vendors are pulling out of the ring. Companies including Purisma, Siperian and Initiate are well invested in the MDM market. The takeaway is, if you talked with these vendors before, talk to them again and get an update of their roadmap and product plans.

The same advice goes for the larger vendors who "are in the show, big time," compared to earlier tepid investments, Zornes says. Keeping up with the likes of SAP, Oracle and IBM may not be easy, but only time will tell when these big players arrive with products that are cohesive enough to support MDM as a "contender." In all cases, attendees should ask about reference customers and watch their presentations closely. Some things will have changed.

Next, the conference agenda. Attendees will find that content has kept up with the zeitgeist of the MDM evolution. While the education tracks remain core to the program, Zornes, DM Review editor-in-chief Mary Jo Nott and I will be among those conducting panels pressing vendors on how they are touching the issues of the day. Among them:

- Data Governance: As demonstrated in earlier pre- and post-conference polling, the politics of how to manage MDM programs is still a major pain point, so there are a couple of panels here. How much data governance integration is necessary or desirable? The systems integrator crowd will surely chime in on this. We'll also want to know where process design tool figure into all this. "Right now we have design tools and methodologies on the front end that do nice graphical representations but don't connect with business rules and processes that are needed in order to be managed by a hub of some sort," Zornes says.

- MDM "Futures:" Where are architectures headed? Should you have all the multiple entities in one hub or software stack (e.g. Siperian, Purisma) or can you have them in multiple hubs (e.g. IBM, Oracle) for product, customer etc.? Of course, there may be no correct answer here, it will be years before we know which course suits many or most enterprises.

- Hierarchy Management (versus Hierarchy by Anarchy): Enterprises are struggling with painting internal views of their customers in settings that are business to business, business to customer, or business to business to customer. Marketing, accounting and service all see different hierarchies; third parties data providers (e.g. Axciom, D&B) force their own hierarchies on customers in ways that don't necessarily reflect the way an enterprise wants to do business.

- Process Hubs (as opposed to Data Hubs): Here's what the big MDM users tell us they need, the ability to manage a central repository of processes or policies such as discount, upgrade and other preferences.

- Privacy/Compliance: The central question here is how to balance a full view of the customer against a variety of applicable privacy requirements and regulations. On the back end, the challenge will be to manage a singular definition and lacation of master policies that are transparent and auditable.

We're all interested in answers to these questions, and vendors aren't hesitant to jump into the discussion.

A very positive sign among attendees/presenters at the conference next week is that they're coming from a variety of verticals - distribution, hospitality, government - along with the usual first adopters from high-tech manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications. That kind of broad interest and input will make for a lively show and be a proof point that master data management and customer data integration have the kind of legs that make for a long-term movement in the industry.

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