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Master Data Management and Customer Data Integration Data Warehousing Folks Donít Get It

Originally published February 27, 2006

IT vendors and analysts are always creating new terms to present a fresh look to their products and services. The leading favorites this year are master data management (MDM) and customer data integration (CDI), and these two terms are likely to remain in the number one slot as we head into 2007. Already there are white papers, conferences, quadrants, etc., on these ďnewĒ technologies. Donít get me wrong, if a new term adds value and understanding to our industry, then so much the better. Last year, for example, one important new term was enterprise information integration, (EII),which had a rocky start (in terms of understanding its value and usage). However, as the year wore on, people began to see it as a valuable addition to the data integration toolbox. I hope the same thing happens this year for MDM and CDI. There is, however, considerable confusion about these two terms, and a lot of this confusion is coming from the data warehousing community.

A Historical Perspective
Before adding my two cents on MDM and CDI, letís put these two terms into a historical perspective. Over the years, most organizations have developed, or purchased, a wide range of different front-office, middle-office and back-office applications for running day-to-day business operations. As the number of operational applications has increased, so too have the number of data stores holding important reference or master data about key business entities such as customers, products, employees and finances. In most organizations, this operational master data is dispersed across many IT systems.†††

In the past, to keep operational master data consistent, IT organizations developed custom MDM solutions. As companies have moved toward the use of packaged applications for operational processing, they have looked to their applications provider to help solve the MDM problem. Vendors such as i2, Oracle, SAP and Siebel have responded accordingly, but typically only for master data managed by their products. The big thrust this year by both applications and third-party software vendors is to increase the scope of MDM products.†

One important business area addressed by applications vendors is customer relationship management (CRM). When CRM was first introduced, there was considerable confusion about what it meant and how to deploy it. Much of the misunderstanding was caused by the fact there were three different types of CRM processing (operational CRM, analytical CRM and collaborative CRM), and customers were confused about how vendor products supported each of these types of processing. The same confusion exists about MDM today because it can be used for both operational and analytical processing.†

One of the main types of master data managed by CRM applications is customer data. To solve customer master data integration issues and to help create ďa single view of the customer,Ē applications vendors, third-party software vendors and IT data warehousing groups have been developing and deploying so-called customer data integration applications. I personally think CDI is a bad term because people get confused about the differences between CDI and MDM. Some analysts even suggest you should do CDI before MDM. To me this is backwards thinking, but more on that later. At this point, suffice it to say that CDI, for all intents and purposes, is the same as customer MDM, or C-MDM. It is important to note, however, that a full enterprise-wide C-MDM solution is somewhat broader in scope than a CDI data hub.†††††

There are several issues associated with building a C-MDM application. One of the main ones is creating a common customer identifier that can be used to connect the disparate accounts a customer may have with an organization. This issue alone has spawned vendor software solutions that support customer identity management (CIM).†

Once a common ID has been developed for a customer, the challenge then is to integrate the customer data in the organization. This can be done using data consolidation, data federation, data propagation or a combination of all three. The method chosen will depend on the type of application required (operational or analytic) and whether the various customer data stores have to be synchronized or not.††

The key things to note at this point in the discussion are:

  1. C-MDM is an application solution and not an infrastructure solution. A†sound data integration and data quality infrastructure, however, is important for success in C-MDM applications.

  2. C-MDM applications should use an organizationís existing enterprise data integration infrastructure.

  3. C-MDM can support operational processing and/or analytical processing.

The third item above is worthy of further discussion. C-MDM applications are often built by using data warehousing tools to extract and capture customer data into a single operational data store (ODS). Many of these applications are used for both operational processing and operational business intelligence. The result is that many data warehousing experts consider C-MDM a business intelligence (BI) application. This is not true. C-MDM can be used for both operational transaction processing and BI processing. Given, however, that the dividing line between the two types of processing is blurring, it is easy to see why the confusion arises. Although the demarcation between the two types of processing is academic (business users donít care about it), it does have organizational and political implications. This is why some companies are merging their operational and business intelligence IT groups, especially in the area of data integration.†

Another major issue for C-MDM, and other types of MDM, is metadata and metamodel management. I have already discussed how customer identity management is a problem, but another difficulty is that customer reference data and relationships vary over time. This issue has important implications for business intelligence applications that may analyze customer data across various time periods, comparing revenue this month to this time last year, for example. If, during the last 12 months, the customer hierarchies have changed or the sales organization has been restructured, then this will affect the validity of the comparison. This means that metadata and metamodel changes may have to be tracked and recorded in MDM applications. This means that the development of MDM applications requires significant business domain expertise.†

Developing an MDM Solution
Developing an enterprise-wide MDM solution is a massive multiyear project. Also, MDM vendor solutions that address the issues I have outlined in this article are still immature. This is why many IT organizations are deploying tactical MDM projects such as customer and product data hubs to solve near-term problems. It is also why some analysts think CDI comes before MDM. It is important, however, to think top down and build bottom up. It may be necessary to develop tactical MDM applications, but it is equally important that MDM and C-MDM solutions employ an enterprise-wide approach to data integration, data quality and metadata management.†

Given the importance of MDM, Claudia Imhoff and I have teamed up with the Business Intelligence Network to write a research report on MDM. The focus of the report will be customer usage and cases studies. The report and associated Web event will be available by the middle of this year. Watch this space for further details.††††††††††††††

  • Colin WhiteColin White

    Colin White is the founder of BI Research and president of DataBase Associates Inc. As an analyst, educator and writer, he is well known for his in-depth knowledge of data management, information integration, and business intelligence technologies and how they can be used for building the smart and agile business. With many years of IT experience, he has consulted for dozens of companies throughout the world and is a frequent speaker at leading IT events. Colin has written numerous articles and papers on deploying new and evolving information technologies for business benefit and is a regular contributor to several leading print- and web-based industry journals. For ten years he was the conference chair of the Shared Insights Portals, Content Management, and Collaboration conference. He was also the conference director of the DB/EXPO trade show and conference.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources†are available in Colin's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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