This article was first published in the Summer 2015 issue of OnWindows
Consolidating information across the enterprise is a massive priority for businesses today,” says Ian Ahern, CEO of master data management software company Profisee.
Following the rise of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system in the 1990s and 2000s – a time when many companies focused on modernising their operational systems – businesses have been investing substantially in business intelligence and systems integration.
“But having thrown literally millions of dollars at this technology, many companies still haven’t found a way of successfully consolidating their data such that it is 100% reliable,” says Ahern. “This is where master data management (MDM) comes in.”
According to Ahern, MDM is about taking information from all of the entities of the business and creating a single reference point where all data is correct and reliable – from a single view of a customer to consistent use of product categories.
In general, companies tend to look to MDM solutions to address issues in three key areas: to improve their data analytics; to improve their enterprise-wide operational systems by ensuring data coherence through a single version of the truth; and, typically for larger organisations, to ensure good data governance.
“Improving data analytics generally doesn’t involve messing around with a company’s existing operational systems,” Ahern explains. “They want to map all their disparate data into one single view, but not necessarily change how they’re running the source systems.”
Profisee recently worked with a global manufacturer to help it achieve this objective. Because of the nature and size of the company, its various business divisions each manage and run their own line-of-business (LOB) applications. While this autonomy within the LOBs provides greater flexibility, it has also made it much harder to analyse data across the entire organisation. For instance, a common and important task like negotiating price with a customer across LOBs had become a major headache. “Using our solution, they avoided the significant cost and business disruption of having to overhaul their operational systems, while gaining the single enterprise view of their data that they needed for effective reporting,” says Ahern.
As reflected in the second MDM focus area, creating a single view of customer data is something Ahern refers to as ‘golden record’ management. “Gaining a single view of the customer is the holy grail of MDM, and it’s something we’ve worked with a world-leading pizza delivery company to achieve,” he says. “In North America alone, the company had more than a billion transactions conducted by over half a billion customers, according to a simple extract of transactional information. Even after a substantial investment in traditional ETL-based data cleansing, there were too many duplicate customers, and the company was challenged to identify the single view of customer they needed.
“With Maestro, they’ve succeeded in bringing all of that data into a golden record management system – distilling the data into around 100 million unique (golden) customer records. Now they can understand their customers’ buying patterns, and put that knowledge to work through informed sales and marketing initiatives. Importantly, this enterprise MDM solution also ensures the customer identification challenge is addressed as an ongoing business process instead of a one-off data cleansing exercise.”
Finally, customers look to MDM solutions for help with data governance, particularly in terms of how they manage access to their customer data. “One of the world’s largest professional services companies is currently going through a major initiative to put in place a single ERP system globally,” says Ahern. “The firm selected Microsoft as its standard platform for analytics. Once they fully evaluated the cost of ownership to tackle enterprise processes such as onboarding of customers and suppliers, they opted to use Maestro MDM instead of an MDM product offered by the ERP vendor. With the Maestro solution, once the system is up and running, employees will be able to use whatever device they want and still be able to interact securely with the ERP workflow, driven by the company’s data governance policies.”
Ahern acknowledges that MDM also has a hugely important role to play in terms of helping businesses keep up with and maximise the value of new trends such as big data, but he encourages companies to be pragmatic about what they want to achieve in the near term.
“I would say that over 95% of our customers are still struggling with the data volumes that come from traditional relational data sources,” he says. “So first and foremost, that’s the priority. Get the existing systems and processes working properly. That said, there are businesses – particularly those in channel sales or B2C retail situations – that have a growing need to manage high-volume, unstructured information, too. And we are helping them do that.”
Before any company embarks on a MDM strategy, Ahern recommends that they pay attention to the entire continuum of data management solutions. “Don’t get boxed in by acting to solve an immediate need at the expense of a long-term strategy,” he cautions. “A rush to short-term ROI can cause people to make decisions that limit them in the long run. Think about where you want to go. Invest in a platform that will address the short-term deliverables, but will also grow with your business and your needs.”
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