I can’t tell you that a single theme emerged from last week’s MDM Summit in San Francisco, hosted by DM Review and the MDM Institute, but there were plenty of developments since our conference in New York last fall.

 

Here’s the high level takeaway:

 

-MDM (master data management) is a hot topic at Global 2000 companies;

-MDM as a technology and practice is hugely underpenetrated.

-Existing MDM programs are both focused and either very incomplete or fragmented;

-While multi-entity MDM is becoming relevant to early and advanced adopters, the focus remains on the customer and the top line (with a strong nod to compliance);

-The cost of entry to MDM remains high and requires extensive pre-planning and governance strategies to be successful;

-More enterprises are buying MDM solutions, while others continue to build on their own homegrown systems.

 

With these observations in mind, below the surface the advanced subject matter presented was pretty fascinating below, supported by the list of attendees and presenters at the conference. Along with the return of many Fortune 500 MDM end-users, an interesting cross section of Global 2000 companies sent managers and executives to the conference for the first time. The list of “newbies” last week included: Abbott, Adobe, Siena, Fireman’s Fund, Cisco Systems, Applied Materials, Borders, ClearChannel, Del Monte, Dupont, Eastman Kodak, Franklin Funds, GE, Georgia-Pacific, Great West Life, Herbalife, Information Handling Services, Ingram Micro, Levi-Strauss, Northern Trust, Oklahoma Gas and Electric, Oppenheimer Funds, Pepsico, Regents Bank, Qualcomm, R.L. Polk, Sandisk, Schneider National, Seagate, Stryker, Sutter Health, Symnantec, Sysco, TMN, Visa, VMWare and Warner Brothers.

 

Such a cross section of industries tells you something about the traction and compelling business issues that have led us down the path to MDM. While new attendees were attracted to "boot camp" presentations on MDM essentials, others are looking for more advanced content and telling their own corporate stories. That’s the challenge that falls to conference Chairman Aaron Zornes, who heads up the MDM Institute and builds the agenda for each conference.

 

It’s a combination or expectations and realities according to Zornes, who found companies wanting to move deeper into MDM, but still mostly executing at the top-line customer data integration management (CDI) stage mentioned above.

 

“If there was a theme I’d say it was that mainstream MDM project managers are thinking MDM but acting CDI,” he says. “We know we’re going to have to multiple masters in their companies, beyond customer, beyond product or supplier. There’ll be location, pricing, employees and other things. They'd rather not end up with 10 different suppliers and four architectures.”

 

For all the expectations, it takes money to maintain multiple sets of software, which are immature outside of CDI and other pure-play niches, Zornes says. “Some of MDM will be embedded in SAP, some will be embedded in an ADP payroll and whatever else they outsource, but most of them will be looking at executing on customer data as their big pain point partlybecause they must know their customer legally, especially in financial services.”

 

Every company needs to execute better on marketing and sales, and for some, supply chain is a pressing topic in both manufacturing and service industries. A new track, which I hosted, addressed product information management (PIM), which in some ways is the Wild West of MDM. It’s an area I used to cover back when product information was more connected to Y2K-era product data management and e-catalogs. Just like it was eight years ago, the lack of standards across value chains of distributors, suppliers, partners and customers will make PIM a thick topic going forward. In the PIM track were presentations from health care group-purchasing organization Premier Inc., mortgage specialist Freddie Mac and CAD/CAM specialist Autodesk, all of which I hope to turn into corporate profiles for our readers down the road.

 

It is yet another example of the diversity of needs that MDM hopes to answer in part as it inches toward the mainstream. For all the differences by industry, I was struck by very common issues of governance, data quality and stewardship for any enterprise approaching MDM. One of the best sessions was a pre-conference workshop by Bob Seiner of KIK Consulting called “Non-Invasive Data Governance.” The point of Bob’s session, I think, was to focus on the pragmatic and practical, not to create new assignments, team structures and job titles that would make MDM a new and disruptive process for saddled workers. In other words, let’s create MDM practices that identify data stewards rather than create (or hire) them.

 

Bob’s presentation spoke volumes about the evolutionary impact of MDM, the benefits and dangers of overhead control, responsibility and accountability and ways by which authority can either mandate or support change in pursuit of identified business goals. Though MDM becomes esoteric in detail, it is not unlike governance in its quest for a uniform view of information that translates to agreed and consistent objectives. Responsibilities and politics are the much harder parts of successful MDM and are issues not much addressed by technology.

 

Here are a few VERY high-level takeaways for people just starting out with MDM:    

  • Examine awareness and interest in MDM among peers and potential sponsors in IT and business;
  • Learn more at DM Review's master data management channel ;
  • Identify three or four (not 70) levers in your organization that move your business versus competitors via core competencies and make every MDM proposal answer to them;
  • Identify organizational resources, likely and willing owners and affected businesses processes completely before turning to technology for a MDM solution
  • Reward involvement but avoid new structures, titles and additional duties where possible when delegating roles of governance, ownership and stewardship;
  • Network and learn about MDM practices by attending an active consulting and user-focused event such as DM Review/MDM Institute’s MDM Summit with many end-user discussions and presentations. Learn from, but keep a weather eye on events led only by market research analysts.

 Good Luck, and we hope to see you in New York in October.

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