Siperian President and CEO Peter Caswell says master data management needs to be tackled holistically. Throughout his nearly 30 years in the software business, Peter Caswell has always enjoyed big challenges, and in the field of master data management (MDM), his wish is again fulfilled. As president and CEO of MDM platform specialist Siperian, Caswell oversees a prominent company in an emerging and complicated field that is still a blip on the radar of most of the Fortune 1000. And a year into his tenure as CEO, Caswell understands the focus on MDM and Siperian’s opportunity - but isn’t so sure he even likes the term MDM - as he explains to DM Review Editorial Director Jim Ericson. DMR: Did you join Siperian because you saw the emergence of master data management as a solution?
Peter Caswell: What you’re describing is not the way I look at business. To me, MDM is a label someone puts on a business problem as if there’s a solution that supposedly solves this big issue and everyone sort of gloms onto it. What I saw in Siperian was that there is a huge problem in the technology space, which is that it is difficult to get cross-company information both analytically and operationally, however hard you try. It’s often hard to figure out what the cause of that is. At one point everyone assumed you could put everything into a relational database and solve the problem, and that didn’t happen. Then for a while service-oriented architecture [SOA] was supposed to solve the problem, and it isn’t working so far. It’s very It’s very hard for me to tell you categorically that MDM as it is defined will solve this problem. I personally believe it is a substantial part of solving the problem of information integration across the enterprise and how you make a large corporation work as one business. That’s extremely hard. DMR: Yet Siperian doesn’t talk much about customer data management, which has been sort of a lead-in for what holistic MDM might eventually accomplish.
PC: What ended up attracting me to Siperian was seeing that the VP of marketing and the VP of engineering were already transitioning from CDI [customer data integration] to this cross-company operational and analytical information problem, which people started calling MDM. Siperian was solving substantial chunks of the MDM challenge as described by every customer and prospect I visited, which was applied to different issues but always the same at its core. It was a lack of standardization of reference and master data across an enterprise that was the root cause of a lot of large and midsized company integration problems. And in that problem they saw enormous ROI if they could solve the problem. DMR: Isn’t CDI sort of a first MDM “deliverable” for many companies?
PC: What Siperian built is a data integration platform. We didn’t build an application, and we didn’t build a toolset. Pretty well everyone else is offering an application that is focused on one particular data type and is difficult to broaden - or a toolset that takes an enormous amount of work to make it solve even a small part of the MDM problem. There are folks out there who can solve the CDI problem or the product information management [PIM] problem or the securities master problem or the human resources master problem or the location master problem, and they’ve built a vertical application to solve it. In the end, you’ll usually need to use many different types of data entities to solve the actual business problem. You could solve the location master and still not solve the business problem, and as a result you get zero return on investment. We just ask what the business problem is and go after that. When you help your customer define the business problem and look at the ROI, you realize you can’t just solve one data entity type. You need a platform to be able to do that, and the reality is that every one of our customers is in a multi-entity implementation of a MDM solution. DMR: You’re talking about a unified approach to MDM versus CDI or PIM, but isn’t that a lot to bite off at once?
PC: It is a lot to bite off, and there are times when folks buy huge enterprise licenses for tens of millions of dollars and take it on all at once. We’re more in favor of starting very focused and then extending and expanding, and our platform and business model caters to that. Most of our customers start with a particularly well-defined business problem that they know is an MDM issue. They get that running and then they expand and extend to other business problems. Over time, the utilization of the system broadens and expands, and all of a sudden they move into a full MDM effort. Many of the companies we work with start in a region, extend out into different business problems and then broaden geographically and roll it out on a worldwide basis. DMR: Yet there’s still a lot tire kicking going on. How do you get holistic MDM into an annual budget meeting?
PC: People are already seeing that point solutions for a particular data type are not workable; they don’t actually solve the business problem or drive ROI. I think people are looking very carefully at whom they’re buying this kind of technology from, who’s actually getting it to work and who’s actually getting the ROI. Siperian is benefiting from that because our customers are live, referencable and are all achieving substantial ROI, whereas some of the alternatives are struggling to go live and are costing huge sums of money. I think the industry has matured to the point where we can begin to understand what it requires and what the right approach is. We’re in a nice position because we made a lot of good decisions as we’ve built the platform out. DMR: How do you measure the ROI of a MDM investment?
PC: Because we manage many different data entities, our customers generally work with us or on their own to figure out the efficiency gains they get and the systems they can retire over time while they’re making data sources more efficient. Customers seem to be able to hit numbers related to those issues pretty directly. It’s part human efficiency. In financial services they used to manage substantial quantities of data manually and translate that from different systems to have it make sense. Organizations can become much more efficient and effective in different important areas such as customer service. They can often take advantage of the number of systems they can cut, which is an ongoing challenge to maintain and support. It’s definitely hard ROI. DMR: You mentioned that you believe SOA isn’t yet solving the problem at hand and that Siperian will continue to stay away from applications and toolsets. How will this affect your company’s future?
PC: That’s a pretty serious question that calls for some future talk. In the very long run I think that applications will go away, that platforms will become the norm in the technology industry and that what we’re calling specific applications now will be delivered as services, whether internal or via a third party. As a result of this, I think companies will be able to differentiate more rapidly and effectively. They’ll build unique intellectual property in their operating business as a result of using the next generations of technology. That’s what the Web brings to business - but it’s only beginning to manifest itself. One piece that was missing is what we’re calling MDM, which I think forwards the conversation. But in the long run, the services institutions are going to be very healthy, and the pure application providers that don’t recognize it’s all about enabling capabilities to be rapidly adaptable to the business via this new technology will suffer. I think that’s probably a 10-year prediction.

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