Master data management is at the heart of business intelligence, big data and information governance. Healthcare organizations that don’t realize the significance of this truth risk expending a lot of effort without fixing root causes of problems.

Effective MDM provides an integrated, 360-degree view of the business by combining processes and tools to create an authoritative “master” source of core information that can be shared across an organization as a strategic asset.

Most organizations have launched one or more MDM initiatives. But research by The Data Warehousing Institute shows that 44 percent of those surveyed approach MDM in silos. This defeats the main purpose of MDM: to break out of a siloed view by integrating and sharing data across the business. For this and other reasons, many MDM efforts fail to provide the integrated view so key to business intelligence. The good news is that the untapped potential of MDM is well within reach.

When an MDM effort falters, it takes a clear-eyed investigation to discover what’s impeding success, which tends to be the result of two issues:

  • Confusion over who owns MDM, which by default becomes the responsibility of IT. Vendors are eager to sell a software solution as the answer. Avoiding the perception of MDM as merely a technology solution is a key factor, but business ownership is essential.
  • Lack of knowledge about what it takes to succeed. Conventional wisdom holds that MDM tools and techniques are mature, and that any company can apply them successfully. However, gathering the tools is the easy part; building effective processes and creating a common understanding is 80 to 90 percent of the effort.

Know your MDM status
Determining where an MDM effort has stalled is the first step in moving forward. Was it during the development of the strategy, business case or roadmap? Was it further on, during process or organizational design? Or did things look good until the actual implementation? A few examples of MDM gone awry:

A U.S. retailer’s third attempt to launch an MDM initiative was mired in debate about which data to include, how to coordinate process and system changes—even how to make decisions. In this case, the technology got ahead of the business processes and organization needed to support it.

At a $25 billion global financial company, where several false starts had generated little but PowerPoint proposals and consulting fees, the internal champions still couldn’t get funding for an MDM initiative that all agreed was “the right thing to do.” No compelling business case had been built to justify the effort.

Name the problem
Once it’s clear where an MDM effort has stalled, take a close look at what’s gone wrong. Some of the most common problems manifest as declining IT delivery performance or stalled initiatives; inconsistent execution and workarounds; ineffective governance; declining data quality; or falling back into old habits.

Find the root cause
What’s causing the problem? Internal cross-functional client teams of business, IT, data management and governance stakeholders need to “peel back the layers” and identify the root cause. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Lack of a clear MDM strategy and roadmap
  • An inadequate or nonexistent business case
  • Differing definitions of core concepts and key terms
  • Imbalance between IT and business ownership
  • Misalignment of incentives and goals
  • Insufficient time or resources
  • Wrong skills or personalities
  • Excessive complexity or bureaucracy
  • Too gradual of a change

In the case of the retailer who had treated MDM as an IT initiative, it found that it needed to involve business stakeholders in decision making. Its early efforts had no standard for evaluating existing data or common understanding of how to define core master data. Even the decision-making process and timeline were poorly defined.

Remediate to get results
Root cause analysis should provide the insight to create and execute an MDM remediation plan that works. Most successful MDM plans: Promote business ownership

  • Run shorter projects to get value and learn quickly
  • Balance objectives with the resources available
  • Devote time to the foundation: definitions and analysis
  • Establish clear responsibilities and metrics
  • Ensure that repetition and reinforcement form habits
  • Prioritize an effective change process

The global financial company with the weak MDM proposal decided to focus initially on a tactical solution that would enhance the benefits of other high-priority initiatives. The increased benefits produced a strong ROI and business case for establishing a dedicated MDM team. Once underway, the company identified other opportunities and MDM became a fundamental part of how the business operates.

Master data management is the foundation for new insight and opportunities through big data, advanced analytics and information governance. But it takes more than technology to succeed. Just as most MDM problems are about people and processes, so are most MDM solutions.

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Will Bryant

Will Bryant

Will Bryant is a healthcare data management expert for Point B Management Consultants.