Software Infrastructure for Business Value

Neil Ward-Dutton

The need for MDM and the role of architecture

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The other day I read a post from David Norfolk ("The MDM tarpit") which generated some lively comment. You can read the post yourself, but to briefly summarise, David highlighted a view that Master Data Management (MDM) should really be redundant - the need for MDM is really a reflection of poor architecture or poor strategic planning. Design things right from the outset and you won't find yourself needing MDM, appears to be the argument. David says:

In my opinion, if you have an MDM project, this is prima facie evidence of poor governance in the past. If you couldn't manage your data properly before, once the initial euphoria of buying your shiny new MDM software has worn off, won't you make the same mess of the "master data" that you previously made of your original data? After all, a fool with a tool is still a fool--what has changed?

I think there are two problems with this point of view - which is really a specialisation of a broader view that with "good" architecture in place, the need for remedial action or investment should never be required.

The first is that David's argument could just about be made to work - *if* all you do is implement custom-built applications where you can determine the data model(s) in play and mandate sharing of metadata definitions and so on. However, unlike thirty years ago, for most organisations it's a small minority of applications today that are built, rather than bought. Of course, if you're buying applications off-the-shelf, you have no say over the data models underpinning those applications. Functional and business process fit should be the overriding concerns when considering buying packaged applications - it would be foolish to consider the nature of an underlying data model as a purchasing criterion.

The second is that (as I said a while ago here)

Even where architecture is highly effective (and in many places it isn't), it can at best only be one of many forces shaping the way that IT evolves to support changing business conditions and requirements, and each force has its own vector. Some forces, like a good architecture team, try and combine business and technology focus, and promote the value of global optimisations, good practice and standardisation. But most of the most powerful forces are business forces, and in 99.99% of organisations, their power, when something really big and important happens, will trump any righteous splutterings emanating from IT departments.

Mergers and acquisitions are an obvious example of "something really big and important". They typically lead to duplication of application coverage and the need to harmonise views of products and customers - primary usage scenarios for MDM technology.

From a technology architecture idealist's point of view MDM may seem rather annoying and of course, given a choice, people would rather not have to deal with the issue of reconciling and synchronising data - but we live in a complicated, imperfect world.

What do you think - have I missed the point?

6 Comments

Consider another point - centralization vs. decentralization. Norfolk's argument would hold water if company pursued a centralizaton strategy - a single IT/ Arch team making decisions, on behalf of the entire enterprise, anytime something new or a change to an existing business function comes along. Boy, that would really impede business innovation, slowdown time-to-market, and make the company lose its competitive edge. Yes, you'd have the perfect IT architecture, but the business would be long dead. Proof? The companies that have the MDM problem are ones with more than a $1billion in revenue - goes to tell these successful companies didn't let their IT slow down their growth with a centralized strategy. May be there are businesses with the perfect IT architecture, but they didn't grow beyond $1billion mark! Enough debate about Norfolk's pedagogical rambling. There are enough arguments to be made about the need for MDM. I wrote one in my blog - http://bit.ly/1MV29V.

Well, I agree with you to some extend. It is really needed when the project was poorly done. Here is an interesting video about the usefulness of MDM http://www.videorolls.com/watch/The-Truth-and-Power-of-Master-Data-Management . It seems to me nobody can be sure that everything is done perfectly and this is where it is needed.

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Neil Ward-Dutton, founder and Research Director of MWD Advisors offers his perspective on key software infrastructure issues, IT-business alignment and related things.

Neil Ward-Dutton

Neil Ward-Dutton is a co-founder of and Research Director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, View more

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