I had a conversation recently with Brian Lent, founder, chairman, and CTO of Medio. If you don’t know Brian, he has worked with companies such as Google and Amazon to build and hone their algorithms and is currently taking predictive analytics to mobile engagement. The perspective he brings as a data scientist not only has ramifications for big data analytics, but drastically shifts the paradigm for how we architect our master data and ensure quality.
We discussed big data analytics in the context of behavior and engagement. Think shopping carts and search. At the core, analytics is about the “closed loop.” It is, as Brian says, a rinse and repeat cycle. You gain insight for relevant engagement with a customer, you engage, then you take the results of that engagement and put them back into the analysis.
Sounds simple, but think about what that means for data management. Brian provided two principles:
It is easy to get caught up in the source and target paradigm when implementing master data management. The logical model looms large to identify where master data resides for linkage and makes the project -- well -- logical.
If this is the first step in your customer MDM endeavor and creating a master data definition based on identifying relevant data elements, STOP!
The first step is to articulate the story that customer MDM will support. This is the customer MDM blueprint.
For example, if the driving business strategy is to create a winning customer experience, customer MDM puts the customer definition at the center of what the customer experience looks like. The customer experience is the story. You need to understand and have data points for elements such as preferences, sentiment, lifestyle, and friends/relationships. These elements may be available within your CRM system, in social networks, with partners, and third-party data providers. The elements may be discrete or derived from analytics. If you only look for name, address, phone, and email, there is nothing about this definition that helps determine how you place that contact into context of engagement.
Ultimately, isn’t that what the business is asking for when they want the promised 360-degree view of the customer? Demands for complete, relevant, and timely are not grounded in the databases, data dictionaries, and integration/transformation processes of your warehouses and applications; they are grounded in the story.
So, don’t start with the data. Start with the story you want to tell.
There is a shift underway with master data management (MDM) that can't be ignored. It is no longer good enough to master domains in a silo and think of MDM as an integration tool. First-generation implementations have provided success to companies seeking to manage duplication, establishing a master definition, and consolidating data into a data warehouse. All good things. However, as organizations embrace federated environments and put big data architectures into wider use, these built-for-purpose MDM implementations are too narrowly focused and at times as rigid as the traditional data management platforms they support.
Yet, it doesn't have to be that way. By nature, MDM is meant to provide flexibility and elasticity to managing both single and multiple master domains. First, MDM has to be redefined from a data integration tool to a data modeling tool. Then, MDM is better aligned to business patterns and information needs, as it is designed by business context.
Enter The Golden Profile
When the business wants to put master data to use it is about how to have a view of a domain. The business doesn't think in terms of records, it thinks about using the data to improve customer relationships, grow the business, improve processes, or any host of other business tasks and objectives. A golden profile fits this need by providing the definition and framework that flexes to deliver master data based on context. It can do so because it is driven by data relationships.
I recently had a client ask about MDM measurement for their customer master. In many cases, the discussions I have about measurement is how to show that MDM has "solved world hunger" for the organization. In fact, a lot of the research and content out there focused on just that. Great to create a business case for investment. Not so good in helping with the daily management of master data and data governance. This client question is more practical, touching upon:
what about the data do you measure?
how do you calculate?
how frequently do you report and show trends?
how do you link the calculation to something the business understands?
I just came back from a Product Information Management (PIM) event this week had had a lot of discussions about how to evaluate vendors and their solutions. I also get a lot of inquiries on vendor selection and while a lot of the questions center around the functionality itself, how to evaluate is also a key point of discussion. What peaked my interest on this subject is that IT and the Business have very different objectives in selecting a solution for MDM, PIM, and data quality. In fact, it can often get contentious when IT and the Business don't agree on the best solution.
General steps to purchase a solution seem pretty consistent: create a short list based on the Forrester Wave and research, conduct an RFI, narrow down to 2-3 vendors for an RFP, make a decision. But, the devil seems to be in the details.
Is a proof of concept required?
How do you make a decision when vendors solutions appear the same? Are they really the same?
How do you put pricing into context? Is lowest really better?
What is required to know before engaging with vendors to identify fit and differentiation?
When does meeting business objectives win out over fit in IT skills and platform consistency?
The number one reason I hear from IT organizations for why they want to embark on MDM is for consolidation or integration of systems. Then, the first question I get, how do they get buy-in from the business to pay for it?
My first reaction is to cringe because the implication is that MDM is a data integration tool and the value is the matching capabilities. While matching is a significant capability, MDM is not about creating a golden record or a single source of truth.
My next reaction is that IT missed the point that the business wants data to support a system of engagement. The value of MDM is to be able to model and render a domain to fit a system of engagement. Until you understand and align to that, your MDM effort will not support the business and you won’t get the funding. If you somehow do get the funding, you won’t be able to appropriately select the MDM tool that is right for the business need, thus wasting time, money, and resources.
Here is why I am not a fan of the “single source of truth” mantra. A person is not one-dimensional; they can be a parent, a friend, or a colleague, and each has different motivations and requirements depending on the environment. A product is as much about the physical aspect as it is about the pricing, message, and sales channel it is sold through. Or, it is also faceted by the fact that it is put together from various products and parts from partners. In no way is a master entity unique or has a consistency depending on what is important about the entity in a given situation. What MDM provides are definitions and instructions on the right data to use in the right engagement. Context is a key value of MDM.
What data do you trust? Increasingly, business stakeholders and data scientists trust the information hidden in the bowels of big data. Yet, how data is mined mostly circumvents existing data governance and data architecture due to speed of insight required and support data discovery over repeatable reporting.
The key to this challenge is a data quality reboot: rethink what matters, and rethink data governance.
Part 1 of our Data Quality Reboot Series is to rethink master data management (MDM) in a big data world.
Current thinking: Master data as a single data entity. A common theme I hear from clients is that master data is about the linked data elements for a single record. No duplication or variation exists to drive consistency and uniqueness. Master data in the current thinking represents a defined, named entity (customer, supplier, product, etc.). This is a very static view of master data and does not account for the various dimensions required for what is important within a particular use case. We typically see this approach tied tightly to an application (customer resource management, enterprise resource management) for a particular business unit (marketing, finance, product management, etc.). It may have been the entry point for MDM initiatives, and it allowed for smaller scope tangible wins. But, it is difficult to expand that master data to other processes, analysis, and distribution points. Master data as a static entity only takes you so far, regardless of whether big data is incorporated into the discussion or not.
As the new analyst on the block at Forrester, the first question everyone is asking is, “What research do you have planned?” Just to show that I’m up for the task, rather than keeping it simple with a thoughtful report on data quality best practices or a maturity assessment on data management, I thought I’d go for broke and dive into the master data management (MDM) landscape. Some might call me crazy, but this is more than just the adrenaline rush that comes from doing such a project. In over 20 inquiries with clients in the past month, questions show increased sophistication in how managing master data can strategically contribute to the business.
What do I mean by this?
Number 1: Clients want to know how to bring together transitional data (structured) and content (semi-structured and unstructured) to understand the customer experience, improve customer engagement, and maximize the value of the customer. Understanding customer touch points across social media, e-commerce, customer service, and content consumption provides a single customer view that lets you customize your interactions and be highly relevant to your customer. MDM is at the heart of bringing this view together.
Number 2: Clients have begun to analyze big data within side projects as a way to identify opportunities for the business. This intelligence has reached the point that clients are now exploring how to distribute and operationalize these insights throughout the organization. MDM is the point that will align discoveries within the governance of master data for context and use.