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The New Approach to Master Data Management: A Q&A with Salah Kamel

Originally published October 5, 2015

This BeyeNETWORK article features Ron Powell’s interview with Salah Kamel, CEO of Semarchy.

The importance of master data management has long been recognized. Why, then, have so many companies failed to  embark on a  master data management (MDM)  initiative? The reason is that – up until now – master data management initiatives often required several years to implement and were very costly. It is for that reason that I chose to interview Salah Kamel of Semarchy. Semarchy has an innovative approach to master data management. Their agile solution is faster to implement in terms of time to market, easier to change, easier to adopt, and less expensive. That is definitely good news for organizations that have yet to implement MDM.

Salah, Semarchy is a relatively new company. Can you tell me a little bit about Semarchy’s origins?

Salah Kamel: Semarchy was founded in 2011 in France made of old-timers who have spent a lot of time in the data integration market. We were the original founders of a company called Sunopsis in 1998. Sunopsis was a slightly different company because it was positioned in the data integration market. We were the inventors of the term “ELT” rather than “ETL.”  ETL stands for extraction, transformation and loading. We found there was enough horsepower in the databases to process data and do massive transformations, and that’s why we called it ELT. We were extracting, loading and transforming the data in the databases. We grew the company from scratch until 2006, when Oracle decided to acquire the company. The Sunopsis component is now the Oracle Data Integrator component that Oracle bundles in its Oracle Fusion Middleware.

After spending four years at Oracle integrating Sunopsis into Oracle Data Integrator, we decided to step out of the data integration market and start a new company in the master data management market. This is where we offer most of our product suite today.

Can you talk about master data management (MDM) and how MDM benefits companies today?

Salah Kamel: Our master data management toolset allows you to have a single version of the truth – stored, managed and governed in a single place so that it drives your analysis and your operations as well.

There are already numerous established companies in the MDM market. Why did Semarchy decide to focus on the MDM market?

Salah Kamel: When we were at Oracle, Oracle was looking at having a single platform that could manage all the use cases and all of the types and styles of MDM in 2009. I was in charge of looking at the best products on the market that Oracle could acquire for them to build this central platform. Unfortunately, the technologies at that time that I looked at with my group at Oracle were not strong enough in terms of feature sets and were not bringing the return on investment that customers were waiting for when they were engaging in an MDM initiative.

I decided to step out of Oracle at that time because I felt that there was an opportunity to manage master data in a smarter way. At Semarchy, we do not do traditional master data management. We call it evolutionary master data management. The word evolutionary ties back to agility, our value-driven approach, the transparency of the way we handle the data within our platform, and the way we can bring the data to a level that can be trusted by the entire company. The business drivers that led us to take this new approach to master data were that we wanted solutions that are way faster to implement in terms of time to market, easier to change, easier to adopt, and less expensive.  We incorporated all this in our strategy. From the very beginning, the core and the DNA of our product has been to put together the agility, the value-driven approach to MDM and the trust that you can get out of your data when it is properly managed.

We hear a lot about agile but not in the context of MDM. Can you tell us why you are talking about agile?

Salah Kamel: That’s interesting. There are two ways of answering this question. One way would be to just talk about agility in general, but agile methodology has been here for ages. Some would apply it and some wouldn’t. If you look at some of the technologies of our competitors, it is super challenging to have an agile approach given the technology that they provide. A simple reason is that most of them are basically verticals where you would potentially start by using an existing model that was tailored “for your business.” But in reality with this big uber gigantic model, you end up spending more time understanding the content of the model, trimming it down so it fits your business and then trying to extend some of the attributes and definitions to have them match your business needs.

This approach basically tends to take forever, and you end up getting into super long design cycles of 12 or 24 months, sometimes up to 36 months, and not delivering anything between the time you started implementing or thinking about MDM and the time you release what you have implemented.

So by looking at this market, we definitely thought that there was potentially a different approach that is model-driven. In other words, you start by defining your needs in the system, and the system will generate everything for you. Now, it doesn’t mean that you have to think up front about  everything that you require or what your requirements are going to be in a couple of years from now.  The thing is that for your current requirements, it’s going to take you weeks – not months – to have the MDM system up and running. Therefore, this drives a better adoption from the business users. The business users are waiting for the MDM solution, and you give it to them after a couple of months. Basically, in one or two months, you have the first iteration. Now this requires the technology to be agile enough to cope with changing requirements. If one of the users comes back and says he needs an additional requirement, or new attributes to add, or has new data coming in, then you need to have the technology that is able to take care of these new requirements as quickly as possible.

That was the first innovation that we have in our software that allows us to be agile and to drive the MDM not through a big project but by value. We focus on a value-driven approach to MDM through this agility and the various iterations that you put together. So that’s point number one.

Point number two is about the business processes where you see MDM solutions being implemented at customers – you know, the uber gigantic traditional MDM solutions that are implemented in very big organizations. These MDM solutions usually want to force the business users to change their existing habits and their existing business processes to accommodate the ones of the MDM solution. This usually does not work. Or, if it works, it works as a battlefield where people will fight for ages for the best governance to put together before getting into the adoption of the new business processes.

With our approach, we tell our customers not to touch their existing business processes. In the very first iteration, keep them intact. Keep them as they are. If they’re capturing master data in their ERP, fine. If they are capturing additional master data in their Salesforce and CRM, fine. We’re good with that. We’ll just consume the data as it is in the first iteration, massage it in our platform, and they’ll still get  the value of a unique, single view of the truth of their master data.

That’s the first iteration. Then we tell them that if they want to start changing their existing business processes, start by selling the value to the business users. Once they understand the value of the data that you are providing them, then they’ll be way more open to changing their existing habits and to moving some of their existing processes from their ERP systems or from the various Excel spreadsheets into the MDM.

That’s what we claim as being agile.

That makes a lot of sense. They’re utilizing an iterative approach that is process-driven. You’re not changing what the end user does. Is that right?

Salah Kamel: Absolutely, and we see a lot of success in implementing our MDM this way. Our customers are super happy because they can very quickly have their first iteration and then they continue in one stream enhancing this domain. Say, for example, that they start with a product domain. So they’ll start just bringing the data in, having data stewards look at the data and correct some of it. And they’ll see that the business users get more and more interested in engaging in business workflows in this domain. So this is one track – the product domain.

By the time they get to the first or second iteration in this domain, they figure out that they can do it easily with our platform because natively we’re multi-domain. Then they can start with a second domain – for example, the customer domain or the reference data domain. And they really love it. They love the fact that they are not tied to a single type of MDM, that we’re not forcing the change of any business processes, that we’re not dictating one domain and not the other, and so on.

Sure. Now Salah, are your customers worldwide? How many customers do you have?

Salah Kamel: We have roughly 50 customers right now and most of these customers are Fortune 1000.  It sounds like a small number, but keep in mind that we’re talking about very large projects where customers that engage with us engage with us for the long term. So that’s a very interesting metric to understand.

The interesting thing to understand about our customers is that geographically they’re based in North America and Europe. Most of them have multiple domains. Most of them are implementing different data domains. Some of them are implementing consolidation of their customers or contacts or CRM data to offer a 360-degree view that ties up all their interactions in the MDM hub. Others are using us to manage their products and product catalogs – whether they’re in the retail space, the pharma industry, the agro-chemical industry or any other type of industry.

And then others use us for different things – for managing their reference data, their stores, their locations, their restaurants, or their chart of accounts. Some customers use us to manage their patents –  how many patents they filed per year and the status of the patents.

It is interesting to see that more than 25% of our customers have implemented more than one domain. The others are more than happy with what they have done within one domain, and they keep on enhancing it to get better governance of their master data and to get a better view and understanding of the challenges that a master data initiative brings to the table.

What’s your vision for the company? Where do you see it going over the next few years?

Salah Kamel: That’s a very interesting question. The company has been profitable since its second year. I’m just going to tell you a couple of facts. This is thanks to our technology but also thanks to our approach to this market. Basically, we have focused since the beginning on our differentiator –evolutionary MDM rather than just traditional MDM. To have an idea about this term – people should think Salesforce.com, not SAP. In other words, if you want to start an MDM initiative, you don’t need to plan for it for five years and then take another four years to implement. You can think of it today and have it connected tomorrow.

We embrace your business requirements. That has been our vision since the beginning and this is our vision as of today and this is what we want to do in this market. We want to be a game changer in this market, telling people that there’s no need to go with the big players in this market because that’s going to take forever and the return on investment will not be measurable within the next five years. What we tell them is we are a company that they can work with easily. And we have big names that have signed with us – Chipotle is one of them. They were able to stand up their MDM in less than two months. They are managing all their restaurants worldwide. After two months and the successful release of their first iteration, they’re expanding the MDM to a larger approach for menu items and snack items. So this is even larger than just their stores. In the next iteration they also have a plan to start managing all their customers in our platform.

What I tell our customers is that there are alternatives to the big players, and these alternatives, like Semarchy, are going to embrace your business requirements. As a result, you will cost-effectively and quickly reach your ultimate goal of having an MDM initiative that is on track and delivering value to you.

That has been our vision and is our vision for the future.

Thank you, Salah, for discussing with us how Semarchy’s evolutionary approach is revolutionizing the MDM market.

  • Ron PowellRon Powell
    Ron is an independent analyst, consultant and editorial expert with extensive knowledge and experience in business intelligence, big data, analytics and data warehousing. Currently president of Powell Interactive Media, which specializes in consulting and podcast services, he is also Executive Producer of The World Transformed Fast Forward series. In 2004, Ron founded the BeyeNETWORK, which was acquired by Tech Target in 2010.  Prior to the founding of the BeyeNETWORK, Ron was cofounder, publisher and editorial director of DM Review (now Information Management). He maintains an expert channel and blog on the BeyeNETWORK and may be contacted by email at rpowell@powellinteractivemedia.com. 

    More articles and Ron's blog can be found in his BeyeNETWORK expert channel.

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