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November 29, 2017
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April 3, 2018

What IS Master Data, Anyway?

“You haven’t started an MDM program? Do you worry that you will be able to catch up?” – Overheard at Gartner’s Data & Analytics Summit in Grapevine, TX.

One of the recurring themes from the presentations we attended and conversations we had at the summit was that, with Master Data Management (MDM), the question is not “if,” but “when.” And, that, as evidenced by the overheard conversation, there is a sense that if you haven’t already started an MDM / PIM initiative, you are already behind.

While dedicating the majority of our services to Ecommerce strategy and initiatives over the course of much of our company history, we began to notice a trend: no commerce or digital transformation effort will thrive without a solid foundation of accurate and accessible master data to power it. This realization led us to create an MDM practice years ago, and recently has led us to dedicate all of our efforts strictly to empowering companies of all sizes and in all industries to “harness the power of their data.”

Over the next month, you will see more news on the subject from us, as well as significant changes to our website, but in the meantime, we will start a blog series dedicated to Master Data Management: “What is it?”, “Why is it Important?”, “How Can I Build a Business Case for It?”, etc.

And, to begin, we will start at the very beginning, which is, as Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote in “The Sound of Music,” a “very good place to start.”

What is Master Data?

Any good MDM consultant will tell you that the success or failure of many an initiative hinges on a thorough and complete understand of precisely which data within your enterprise should be treated as “master.”

Because we just attended the Gartner Data & Analytics Summit, let’s look at their definition of Master Data:

“A consistent and uniform set of identifiers and attributes that describe the core entities of the enterprise and are used across multiple business processes.”

Now, let’s break that down a bit:

1) “A consistent and uniform set of identifiers and attributes” – This will be different for every enterprise, which is one of the reasons that pre-implementation strategy and consulting is imperative for any MDM project, but, essentially, this refers to any data that is high value and core to multiple, if not all, critical business processes across the enterprise. That last part is critical as it helps to differentiate data that should be considered “master” vs. “operational.”

2) “that describe the core entities of the enterprise” – Master data exists and should be identified within multiple data domains:

Party – This data domain can extend to an individual customer in B2C or a business (even hierarchy) in a B2B context. In other contexts, this domain can extended to Patients, Providers, Citizens, Suspects or any other domain that has similar attributes like name, contact information, and, most importantly, survivorship rules when one or more records are resolved into a single record that represents the truth of that entity. It can also extend to suppliers, although that can arguably be considered a distinctly different data domain, and many MDM vendors will treat it as such.

Product – A critical data domain for commerce, catalog, and compliance efforts, product master data differs from customer data primarily in that while the volume of records may be lower, the complexity is higher, hierarchies are much more important, and collaborative authorship is key.

Asset – This domain can extend to both physical assets, such as replacement parts in a warehouse, physical buildings, such as hotels or warehouses, or beds within a hospital, for example, or digital assets, such as images, videos or reviews that relate to another data entity like a product or a location.

Location – A more nebulous, but no less critical data domain, location master data will usually be a geographical location that corresponds to another data domain (like an address for a retail store or location of an off-shore drilling site) or some other location reference that can be tracked, such as delivery trucks or IP addresses.

Indeed, this is not an exhaustive list of the critical data domains within which master data may reside, but, it is a good starting point.

3) “used across multiple business processes” – This is key. See explanation of point #1. Master data is an asset used and
re-used by applications across the enterprise

In the next installment of this series, we will explore why the principle (and technologies) of Master Data Management is essential. In the meantime, if you want to discuss it further with one of our customers, contact us.