Ready player 2: Partner-led MDM implementation with Comma

Do you know your Gartner Magic Quadrant™ from your Forrester Wave™?

Mike Evans, Chief Technology Officer at Comma, talks us through the partner-led MDM implementation process: from getting expert help to understand vendor selection resources like the Gartner Magic Quadrant™, to making sure you ace every platform as you level up to full software implementation.

If MDM selection is a platform game, what’s the hardest level to get past?

The hardest bit is making sure you’re adequately prepared to start: the ‘hearts and minds’ bit. It’s getting people on side, making sure you understand enough about your data landscape and what you might need to do to change it, before you go out and procure technology…that’s the toughest part of the journey and the most important to get right.

Do you see businesses who have tried to skip levels? What’s the most common, and what problems does it create later in the process?

Definitely. We’ve met a lot of organisations at the Level 5 bit, or even later. They’ve selected software, but haven’t done any of the preparation, and therefore they find themselves with a piece of software that they don’t know what to do with. We then end up skipping back and covering all of that earlier groundwork.

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With MDM software, you can implement it quite quickly if you know what you want to do with it. But if you don’t, you’ve probably got a few months' worth of investigation and discovery within the business, looking at the processes you operate, the data that underpins them, the people that are involved, etc. And that needs to happen before you can even start going near the software.

Tools like the Gartner Magic Quadrant™ and Forrester Wave™ can seem like a ‘cheat sheet’ to speed up the selection process. Why should businesses not do this?

With any of these tools and guides, you have to understand what they are telling you before you use them to make a decision.

A lot of people will look at, for instance, the Gartner Magic Quadrant™, and say, “Right, that vendor is in the top right, they’re going on my shortlist”. But what do the axes on the graph really mean? How do they relate to what you’re looking for?

In the Gartner world, a lot of the positioning comes down to their ability to execute ‘at scale’ and vision for their suite of products. As such, a smaller vendor that has a really interesting product, but hasn’t yet been deployed in lots of organisations, is unlikely to appear in the top right. You might rule out some of the best and most innovative products by focusing only on the ‘leaders’.

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Gartner also tend to rank the company, not the product. Which means that big market leaders like Informatica, who have five or six different products, are being ranked alongside smaller, more specialist vendors. It doesn’t mean that the smaller vendor won’t have the right solution for your MDM needs.

It’s worth spending some time reading the explanation text for context, rather than heading straight for the graph, as that’s often more insightful and includes anecdotal feedback from customers. In many ways it’s like comparing Nintendo with an indie developer – they both have a completely different offering and a different market share, but either one might have what you’re looking for.

Forrester is slightly different because it assesses the product, not just the vendor. They’re much more functionality focussed, so you can’t really cross reference the information with Gartner because they are two fundamentally different graphs. Forrester tends to be less about performance and revenue, and more about what the products can offer.

However, the first step, before you’ve so much as glanced at the Quadrant or Wave, is to understand your data and your processes and define what you need. You could pick the biggest, best, most advanced vendor on the market, but that won’t guarantee success if you haven’t done your data groundwork.

What is the best way to use the information in those tools to help your decision making?

To start with, I would say: do use them, especially if you’re exploring a software market that you don’t have much experience in and want to learn more about the players in that market.

Once you’ve done that initial exploration and looked at vendors that tick some of the boxes against what you’re trying to achieve, I’d encourage a call with the analysts to ratify your thinking (you often get more relevant information from a conversation than from a piece of paper).

I’d then recommend speaking to someone like Comma. We can make sure you have all of the right questions and requirements lined up before you bring the vendors in to demonstrate their capabilities. If you approach them with a list of generic functions that any MDM platform can do, you’re not going to be able to differentiate. Because guess what, they’re all going to be able to do those things.

That’s my advice. Speak to the analysts, arrange a call with Comma (or our parent Amplifi) and arm yourself with a list of questions and requirements before you speak to the vendor.

How does partner-led implementation (ie with Comma) help?

Engaging someone like Comma in the selection process means that you start doing some of the investigation before you select your software – and if you’re not at that point, we will tell you that you’re not ready to select yet and work on getting you where you need to be to make the right decision. Before we do anything, we need to discover and document the requirements that are needed for the RFP [request for proposal], but all of that preparation then becomes part of what is needed to implement the solution later.

So it’s making sure you’ve done all of that groundwork up front, taking those outputs to feed the RFP, and therefore getting a better outcome from the selection process.

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You can’t ‘button bash’ your way to victory in the MDM game. What skills/leadership do businesses need access to, to make MDM selection and implementation a success?

The biggest thing for me is having the business analysis skills to really understand your processes and data, to document them and make sure that they are an accurate reflection of your organisation’s reality. That’s the key to all of this. An IT team, for instance, might think they understand the processes that a business follows, but when you sit down with the people who execute those processes day to day, they’re actually quite different. You really run the risk of putting in the wrong solution if you’re going off information that is inaccurate in the first place.

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Those business analysis skills are key, and Comma provide that in abundance. But where it works best is when there is a good business analyst on the client side who already knows the in-scope processes and data pretty well, then works with a Comma consultant to make a useful set of inputs to an MDM program.

The other thing is, again, understanding what you’re trying to achieve. It sounds so silly, and so basic, but not understanding the benefits you’re trying to unlock by implementing the project is one of the most common causes of MDM project challenges. You need to understand why you want MDM before you do anything.

What’s your most satisfying victory for an MDM client?

There are two stand outs for me.

One is a long-standing client where we implemented MDM, but it’s taken on its own life. It wasn’t just an IT project: right from the beginning, it was seen as “we have this as a base, now how are we going to evolve it and make sure it keeps meeting the needs of the business?” It’s an example where data management has truly become part of the culture. That’s the utopia for us – when an organisation actually changes the way they think about data and don’t see MDM as a one-off project.

The second client that springs to mind were the opposite. When we started with them, they had done almost exactly what I have just said not to do. MDM was seen as an IT project; there was little understanding of the platform that had been put in internally; it had been left exactly as it had been installed; it basically wasn’t being treated as a data management solution at all. Comma joined after the initial implementation and built it up from there.

Since then, we’ve seen their maturity increase and the businesses adoption and appreciation of data grow. Through working with Comma over a number of years, they’ve embraced the importance of data and, even though their tech landscape isn’t as advanced as many businesses, their attention to data as a business has really developed, which makes any technology changes easier.

And your most satisfying victory in gaming?

Finishing Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64 sticks in my head. That was a big one for me. Is there an MDM message in there somewhere? Maybe I’ll have to play it again and figure one out.

MDM selection and implementation is better in two player mode. Find out more about how Comma can help you at every step of the process in our MDM Selection Guide or speak to the Comma team on 01926 911 820.

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