The focus of this column is to outline the top five technical evaluation criteria used by large IT enterprises to identify their systems integrators (SIs), who help implement their next generation of customer data integration (CDI), master data management (MDM) and/or data governance initiatives.

We need to understand that few SIs have experience with one major CDI-MDM project - let alone more than one in the industry. In-flight projects are no substitute for experience, but they represent a vote of confidence from the industry in that SI's capabilities as well as a commitment by the SI partner to the industry. What are the top five technical evaluation criteria for the services of systems integrators on CDI-MDM projects?

1. Extensible data governance methodology and accelerators. Too many times, clients report, "Our SI doesn't understand us." This translates to, "We asked for a CDI or MDM proposal and what our SI gave us was a rehash of its enterprise data warehouse method." A key area of differentiation for methodologies is the level of integration between the visually oriented process-mapping tools and the actual process generators that feed the rules engine to drive the master data policies captured in the methodology. Given the current lack of integration among the various CDI-MDM design and methodology tools with the actual CDI-MDM platforms, evaluators of SI's offerings need to pay close attention to the level of integration today as well as the future for any such data governance tools on the SI's roadmap (or how the SI plans to leverage future tools from the software partners).

2. Industry-specific data model experience and extract, transform and load (ETL) mappings. Data models are often the top technical evaluation criteria of CDI-MDM software solutions, so it follows that the technical skills and expertise of the SI candidates must match your data model center of gravity, e.g., CSC Hogan, IBM Banking Data Warehouse, Oracle Trading Community Architecture, etc. Moreover, the SI must be able to map the primary data sources into the hub, either through leverage of ETL tools with their associated mappings or by bringing to the engagement their own custom mappings of Oracle, PeopleSoft and SAP data models.

3. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) experience and accelerators. The design point of CDI-MDM software is typically shared services/policies/processes via SOA. Quite commonly, a commercial CDI-MDM product is often an IT organization's first foray into SOA. And like anything major attempted a first time, it mandates an SI partner who has experience. Most SIs take an approach wherein they provide their own SOA framework as an accelerator and leverage the SOA frameworks provided by the megavendors as well as the best-of-breed CDI-MDM platforms. In any case, the SI has to keep up to date regarding the current and future capabilities of the CDI-MDM software partners in terms of their support for process flow integration. This is why the notion of process hubs is increasingly relevant - not just to Type-A early adopters. Experience with the underlying rules engine of commercial CDI-MDM software and/or BPEL is also required.

4. CDI-MDM product experience. As IT executives may have noticed, costs for CDI-MDM product-specific consulting are often out of line with other rank-and-file IT skill sets. During 2007-08, acute skill shortages in megavendor products such as IBM WCC, Oracle MDM (a.k.a. Siebel UCM) and SAP NetWeaver MDM will significantly exacerbate project costs. While vendor product certification is good, product experience is vital. Ideally, the SI partner brings process templates and tools (e.g., product evaluation matrix, gap analysis, etc.) to assist in the evaluation and selection of build versus buy as well as CDI-MDM product selection (if you buy).

5. CDI-MDM project experience. Shortages of CDI-MDM project and process skill sets will drive up costs for enterprise data architects, data stewards and other individuals with a strong affinity for data governance. Clearly, demand will outstrip the market supply for individuals with actual experience because few individuals have more than one project under their belt. This will create demand for such SI innovations as "rent an architect" and "rent a data steward." The SI partner should be expected to assist in the project ROI justification as a standard matter via preloaded economic models to help IT and business leadership engage in CDI-MDM justification processes.

Given the strategic nature of CDI-MDM projects, the capabilities of partner SIs must be given close scrutiny - not only in an effort to contain costs, but also to ensure success of this vital infrastructure investment.

See you at CDI-MDM Summit 2007 in San Francisco this March 25 to 27 and April 30 to May 2 in London!  

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