I’ve always been a little jealous of ERP development teams. They operate on the premise that you have to standardize business processes across the enterprise. Every process feeds another process until the work is done. There are no custom processes: if you suddenly modify a business process there are upstream and downstream dependencies. Things could break.

We don’t have that luxury when we build MDM solutions for our clients. This was on my mind this past week when I was teaching my “Change Management for MDM” class in Las Vegas. The fact is that business people constantly add and modify their data. What’s important is that a consistent method exists for capturing and remediating these changes. The whole premise of MDM is that reference data changes all the time. Values are added, changed, and removed.

Let’s take the poster-child-du-jour, Toyota. Toyota has already announced that it will stop manufacturing its FJ Cruiser model in a few years. In the interest of its dealers, repair facilities, and after-market parts retailers, Toyota will need to get out in front of this change. There are catalogs to be modified, inventories to sell off, and cars to move. Likewise MDM environments can deal with data changes in advance. The hub needs to be prepared to respond to and support data changes at the right time.

We work a retailer that is constantly changing its merchandise with fluctuating purchase patterns and seasons. Adding spring merchandise to the inventory means new SKUs, new prices, and changes in product availability. Not every staff member in every store can anticipate all these new changes. Neither can the developers of the myriad operational systems. But with MDM they don’t have to keep up with all the new merchandise. The half-dozen applications that deal with inventory details can leverage the MDM hub as a clearing house of detailed changes, allowing them to be deployed in a scheduled manner according to the business calendar.

No more developers having to understand the details of hundreds of product categories and subcategories. No more one-off discussions between stores and suppliers. No more intensive manual work to change suppliers or substitute merchandise. No more updating POS systems with custom code. With MDM it’s all transparent to the applications—and to the people who use them.

Our most successful MDM engagements have confirmed what many of our clients already suspected but could never prove: that there are far more consumers of data than they knew. MDM formalizes the processes to ensure that data changes can scale to escalating volumes. It automates the communication of changes to the business areas and individuals who need to know about those changes, without needing to know each individual change.

With spring, shoppers may be thinking about new Easter outfits, gourmet items, or children’s clothes. But suppliers think about trucking capacity. Store managers can anticipate shelf and floor space requirements. Finance staff can prepare for potential product returns. Distribution center staff can allocate warehouse space. You can’t know everyone who needs the information. But the supply chain can become incredibly flexible and streamlined as a result of MDM.

And—okay, this makes me feel much better—it doesn’t even matter whether you have ERP or not!

Evan also blogs at evanjlevy.com.