Part 5 of a six-part series on the “New Age of Master Data Management”
by Julie Hunt
Data management continues to take on an ever-growing range of activities as the role of data has evolved and expanded for many organizations. Business agility and real-time insight are inherent requirements for many organizations. To meet such requirements, organizations need right-time data on a continuous basis, where master data management initiatives are integral to processing business-ready data.
MDM software solutions are evolving as well, to better meet business needs. The new directions of MDM software obviously carry a heavy package of sophisticated technology. Analytics processes now utilize numerous disparate data sources that need context and relationship information that comes from trustworthy and relevant master data. Some MDM solutions are utilizing technologies like graph databases to take advantage of multi-dimensional capabilities to more expansively and agilely handle relationships across all data types. More analytics processes are now providing information and insight primarily for business users who aren’t necessarily highly adept at hands-on technology or data management, which opens up new challenges and opportunities for MDM vendors.
The value of these solutions is heavily tied to business needs and objectives. And this value must be clearly and honestly communicated to a growing array of business roles — in the language of those business users.
In the ‘New Age of MDM’, with greater business participation, should IT and data management team members utilize more of the language of less technical business roles when in discussions related to MDM purchases, implementations and usages?
The “Languages” of MDM
Often conversations regarding master data management have been among IT and data management professionals, including more tech-savvy business roles involved in data management. The “language” of MDM started off primarily related to the worlds of IT and data management teams – in other words “techy talk”.
But it’s likely that this original “language” of MDM is now insufficient for meeting current business objectives and requirements, with the increased (and necessary) involvement of business roles, and the importance of selling the value of MDM to business managers and non-IT decision-makers. A growing lineup of business roles are increasingly involved in data governance discussions regarding practices, policies, cultural changes, and processes, as well as how to develop cross-functional teams and remediate silos for systems and data. Discussions with business roles also focus on the many ways that MDM can underpin important business initiatives and desired outcomes for objectives.
Conversations about the purchase of MDM software solutions can involve less technical roles. High level managers and C-level roles may be part of the decision-making processes: deciding if master data management itself should be adopted; understanding how MDM supports business requirements and goals; choosing which MDM software technologies to utilize; determining metrics and assessing outcomes related to MDM initiatives. Obviously these conversations also involve IT and data management teams, who now must be prepared to communicate well with different business roles.
Communicating in Customer Business Language
Those of us who work with software vendors (no matter which “side”) are clearly aware that marketing and sales efforts for software solutions can deviate linguistically from technical terminology when communicating with less technical business users. But with the recent evolutionary changes for MDM software offerings, there is an increasing need for software vendors and practitioners of MDM to speak the language of the business.
When marketing and selling their MDM software to business roles, some vendors are dropping the use of the term “master data management” in order to bypass the “negative baggage” of traditional MDM solutions. Software vendors with new approaches to MDM are utilizing ‘new language’ to better describe what these new approaches really do, and how they better align the value with Business. Beyond simply being marketing efforts, most changes in ‘language’ are fairly honest attempts to more clearly connect MDM practices and solutions to real business needs, desired outcomes and advantage – in terminology that conveys realistic meaning to business users and decision-makers.
Business roles involved in buying decisions may not know what MDM is, can get confused or lost in the terminology and technology, can see it as too complicated – all of which can interfere with the prospective customer’s understanding of why MDM is important for making competitive use of data. It’s legitimate for vendors to focus on the high level of what MDM contributes to improve data and business processes, and what the business benefits are for each organization. Focus should also cover how the MDM solution handles business needs relative to existing organizational infrastructure, along with business practices and processes – and ultimately business objectives and desired outcomes.
If MDM software vendors demonstrate clearly how the technologies connect to achieving business objectives and outcomes, it better enlightens prospective customers on the benefits and essential nature of master data management – both in terms of the MDM practice and the supporting technologies. And very importantly, business language is essential to uncover business problems to be solved and how data management fits into overall business strategies.
Obviously there is a danger of over-simplification. MDM implementations can take time, both for setting up the technologies, and to institute cultural changes, data governance practices and new cross-functional processes. These aspects of MDM practices and solutions must be honestly communicated. Fortunately we are seeing great advances by different vendors to more quickly get MDM implementations up-and-running, and to take new approaches to how MDM programs are run in order to more clearly show the benefits of MDM and to produce them in a timely manner.
How MDM Software Vendors Speak the Language of Business
Often the “buyers” of enterprise software consist of multiple roles in an organization. No longer is software purchasing solely the domain of IT or other technical teams. There is frequently a composite “buyer” that draws on both influencers and decision-makers. Obviously technical teams perform a very important role in the purchase of software, more often as influencers rather than the final decision-makers. Business roles involved in enterprise software purchases can include: mid-level managers and business unit managers whose teams will be impacted by the use of the software; VPs who approve purchases; CEOs and CFOs who influence or dictate purchase decisions; and even staff in accounts payable who enact purchase transactions.
There are numerous software vendors with various flavors of MDM solutions who are leaning further into the language of business to conduct marketing and sales activities, and discussions about implementations and usage. Here are a couple of examples:
Enabling Content Management and Digital Interactions
Data and analytics have become essential components of the marketing efforts of most organizations. As a natural evolution, certain marketing technologies have embedded master data management capabilities to provide a more seamless application for business users. Some vendors of such marketing technologies don’t call out MDM per se as a component of the solution.
A company that started as a traditional PIM vendor evolved its software into a solution for managing complex product information and multichannel content, for multiple roles in the information supply chain. For the user, the MDM / PIM part is “invisible”. Prospective customers see this solution as an application that supports multichannel interactions, sophisticated content management and digital communications / marketing. The vendor places a strong emphasis on business user access to solution capabilities which further encompasses the business user perspective and language.
The solution provides a means to help resolve the “information fragmentation” that plagues organizational efforts to address the complexities of content management and usage, including highly variable sources (user-generated content, outside experts, brand) and diverse distribution channels (corporate website, mobile, social). The solution supports efforts to reconcile brand consistency and customer experience requirements that are necessary for successful digital marketing.
These are all very much business problems that are being addressed by business teams: digital marketing, ecommerce, content management, product strategy, and so on. The vendor reveals the value of the solution in the language of both business buyers and users. In marketing the solution, the software vendor focus isn’t on data / information per se, but on what business users need to do with information and content, and how solution capabilities help them manage these activities in support of digital business needs.
Breaking Free from Traditional MDM through Data-Driven Business Applications
A vendor has introduced a relatively new “master data management” platform that is designed to break away from the traditional aspects of MDM software solutions. Instead of basing MDM and other data-related capabilities on relational databases, which has been a common choice until recently, this vendor loads combined and curated data into a NoSQL graph database. This allows the vendor to provide a scalable multi-tenant platform-as-a-service to innovate the creation of ‘data applications’ that are frequently closely tied to business functions and initiatives.
On the technical side, this approach supports oversized datasets and accommodates rapidly evolving schema, something most relational databases find difficult. Graph databases provide a greatly improved method to delineate relationships between people, data, and things.
For business users, this data management solution provides the means to build data-driven business applications that align with the goals and functions of the business. Business users can construct applications that are industry-specific to perform exactly the processes that are needed.
Business users don’t need to know that the platform is based on an MDM infrastructure. This vendor wants to give business users the equivalent of “consumer apps” that produce information and analytics results quickly and easily. The vendor frequently speaks “business language” to help business users grasp these concepts.
For business users to successfully take advantage of this platform, the software capabilities and processes will have to be couched in the language of the business. The platform will have to carefully manage business user access based on guidelines and activities that make sense to less-technical business roles. As with any data management software solution that strives to support usage by business roles, IT and data management teams must be partners with the business to ensure successful outcomes. Collaborative capabilities enable such partnerships. So it will be interesting to see how successfully this vendor empowers and protects business usage of its MDM-based platform.
Going Beyond the “Traditional Language” of MDM
In the ‘New Age of MDM’, we’re seeing great diversity as to how vendors, practitioners and organizations talk about MDM. Changes in language are essential to better connect MDM practices and solutions to real business needs, desired outcomes and value – in terminology that conveys real meaning to business management and decision-makers.
We’ll continue to see a broadening variety of solutions that build on MDM, while deviating from traditional MDM implementations, in order to offer more business-relevant capabilities. Realistically, even the term “master data management” can be confusing for business roles in many organizations that could benefit from implementing MDM practices and technologies. It can be advantageous and helpful when vendors use new but honest terminology to better demonstrate business value and help prospective customers understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of implementing master data management initiatives.
It seems that the more innovative the MDM-related software solution, the greater the need for new ways to work directly with business roles and to communicate in the language of business. One of the stumbling blocks for such innovation of software and language comes from analyst firms that cover MDM software solutions. Increasingly certain analyst firms have become trapped by their inexact definitions of what kind of solution constitutes an “MDM offering”, when evaluating MDM vendors for benchmark reports. Many vendors with MDM-related offerings are trailblazing new directions for MDM, but are excluded from certain industry benchmarks because of the narrow definition held by these firms. Analyst firms following such a path are performing a disservice to buyers who are interested in the right approach to MDM for their organizations, or who are in need of an MDM-based offering that provides business applications tailored for immediate needs.
Image source: hastac.org
Julie Hunt is the editor of Hub Designs Magazine and co-founder of the Hub Designs MDM Think Tank. Her “day job” is as an independent B2B software industry solution strategist and analyst. She provides consulting services for vendors to help develop successful strategies for buyers, customer and user experiences, solutions, go-to-market, and future direction.