Truth and myth

Malcolm Chisolm has penned a thoughtful article which argues that there essentially will never be a “single version of the truth” in an organisation of any size.  As he rightly points out, beyond a single related group of users e.g. in accounts or marketing, it is very difficult indeed to come up with a definition of a business term that is unambiguous and yet also satisfies everyone.  Which costs actually are counted in “gross margin”?  Is a “customer” someone who has signed a contract, has been shipped goods, been invoiced or has paid?  These examples become vastly more difficult when considering a global enterprise operating in lots of countries.  If it is hard to get production, marketing and finance to agree on a definition within the same office, what are your chances of getting agreement between 50 countries?  A TDWI survey some time ago showed how far away companies are from fixing this, and this survey was of US companies rather than multinational ones.  

This issue is at the heart of master data management, and is why MDM is a lot more than putting in a “customer hub”.  Managing the inevitable diversity of business definitions, ensuring that they are synchronised between systems, dealing with changes to them and providing processes to improve the quality of master data is what an MDM project should address.  A technical solution like an MDM repository or series of hubs is part of providing a solution. but only a part.  Significant organisational resources and processes need to be constructed and applied to this issue.  Even when these are done, it is a journey rather than a destination: data quality will never be perfect, and there will always be business changes that will throw up new challenges to maintaining high quality, synchronised master data.  However, the sooner that this message gets through the sooner organisations can start to really begin to improve their master data situation rather than just plugging in the latest technological silver bullet.