A few weeks ago I attended the Gartner MDM conference in Las Vegas. There were a good mix of newbies to MDM, experienced customers who can now claim to be MDM veterans, analysts on all key and complimentary topics, an active exhibit hall floor, and a wealth of great conversations and sessions. My impression of the conference was positive as I think the team did a good job of including all the types of items you would want included in a conference.
At every MDM conference I've ever been to, there is always a customer presentation that results in a wide-eyed shock from those that are new to MDM. At the Gartner show, that presentation went something like this: customer showcases a set of problems they had before MDM, customer highlights all the work that went into building a true set of master data across just one or two of their business disciplines, customer talks about what a great success it is and how they plan to expand in the upcoming months, someone in the audience asks how many people it took on the project and the customer responds "over a hundred." At this point in time, you look around the room and see people whispering, notes being taken, and others with just a look of shock in their eyes. I've seen this before with a variety of punch lines: "over a hundred million dollars over the first 3 years", "fifty million dollars in the first year", "fifty people to design the goals with over a hundred actively participating", etc.
MDM is a business changing initiative that has massive advantages. For large organizations (who are typically the presenters at these conferences), the monetary and personnel commitment required is large - but is proportional to the overall size of the IT staff. For smaller companies, the commitment is just as large; however, the cost is more in line with your overall budget. Just because Kraft spends $X doesn't mean Fred's Potato Chips is going to spend anywhere close to $X. Don't let the marquis presentations scare you into avoiding MDM.
The second major theme I saw this year was the predominance of BPM used in conjunction with MDM. About 75% of the presentations mentioned BPM at some point during the discussion. This is quite a new theme that many predicted would happen but few had witnessed. It seems natural to think that business processes can only be as good as the data on which they are based, but up until recently these practices were somewhat siloed. This year, the strategies seem to be more in synch from the customers and, also, the analysts discussed both topics in parallel with each other.
For example, I'm sure we've all lived through some frustration when a flight gets delayed due to crew issues. The business process of establishing how an airline chooses the flight crew for a flight is one that is based on many factors and it is a process that may need constant adjustment. Information on crew location, how much they've worked, weather issues, plane maintenance issues, type of aircraft, etc. all are data points that influence the business process of choosing the crew. Additionally, much of this information might originate in different systems and might be somewhat inconsistent. Imagine changing a flight crew based off information that was not correct - this would likely cause serious customer satisfaction issues with, potentially, some of your largest customers. The combination of combining the right data - via MDM - along with an agile framework for changing business process - via BPM - is a key benefit to most every business.
Overall, the Gartner MDM conference was well worth the money and a good set of materials for all attendees.