Question master

Jane Griffin poses “five questions to ask your MDM vendor” in a DM review article this week. I like the idea of the article, but I think one of the questions is somewhat flawed, and there are some other questions than seem just as pertinent to me. 

Firstly, remember that MDM is a market that did not really exist two years ago.  There were some CDI and PIM vendors around before that, but in terms of general purpose MDM solutions you had what exactly?  Kalido MDM and SAP MDM (which unfortunately had the small drawback that it didn’t work).  Yet now there are maybe 60 vendors who claim they have an MDM solution.  Well, they are either all quick learners, or some of these solutions will perform best on Powerpoint rather than any other operating system  This begs the question:

Question 6.  How many customer references do you have?  How many are in production with your software, and can I talk to three of them?  Trust me, this is the question that will send shivers down the spine of an MDM software vendor.  The pioneering vendors went through plenty of issues with their early releases and some emerged better than others.  Newer vendors will have exactly the same problems, so you should get a good sense of how other people have been getting on with the software.

Q7.   How well does the MDM product support local to global mapping of data well does it deal with semantic differences?  In the search for “one version of the truth” you will encounter the pesky reality that in a large company there are international coding structures but also local coding structures e.g. for local products specific to a market.  Both structures are “right” but they both need to be managed e.g. when a new version of the international coding structure comes out, will it overwrite local amendments made to the last version?  This brings us on to….

Q8..  How good is the product’s version control?  Master data is rarely simple and unique, and will most certainly change over time.  Can the MDM solution deal with multiple draft copies of master data that is in review, or can it only deal with “golden copy” data.  The latter would be a significant limitation to how much of your data governance you are able to automate.

Q9.  How good is the hierarchy management of the product?   In particular, can it deal with varying levels and associations, how easy is to make bulk changes e.g. re-parenting, how intuitive is it to map hierarchies together, and how flexible is it to set validation rules (in batch, on-line, both?).  The nitty gritty of your MDM solution will likely involve significant playing around with business hierarchies, and some tools are a lot smarter than others.

Q10.  Can you easily track the lineage of any changes i.e. can you trace you did what to the product code structure three versions ago?  Some products are much smarter at time-variant analysis than others, which is increasingly relevant in this age of greater compliance scrutiny. 

There are many more I am tempted to add, but I like Jane’s idea of coming up with a manageable number.  Of Jane’s original questions,

Q1.  Proven methodology?
Q2.  Business benefits?
Q3.  Integration with EDM strategy?
Q4.  Data governance?
Q5.  Is the product extensible?

Q1 is sensible, though a true software vendor will often work with systems integrators, so the question about methodology and experience is as much directed to the SI as to the MDM vendor.

Q2 I disagree with.  The vendor should be able to come up with a good indication of the likely costs of the MDM project based on the information that you, the customer, can give it.  An experienced MDM vendor should even have a project estimating tool based on experience, ready to plug in your project characteristics and spit out an estimate.  But the vendor cannot articulate the business benefits for your business.  They may have examples, and have seen some interesting cases elsewhere, but the specifics of the benefits you will see will depend on the specifics of your company, its current issues and the areas that the project will tackle.  No vendor (or even SI) can tell you that as well as you can, or to be more precise, your business sponsor.  I am all for business cases, as readers of this blog know, but your benefits are the one thing a vendor cannot really help you with.

Q3   Assuming this means “enterprise data management” (rather than “document management”; so many acronmys….) then this is a fair question. Clearly you want the approach taken to fit into your broader goals.

Q4.  Good question.  Data governance is key to an MDM project, but the question to the vendor should be around their support for processes e.g. do they support different user profiles, allow for automation of master data workflow etc? (some vendors do, most do not).  But it is also a question for you.  How well articulated is your current process for updating master data, and who owns it?  If you have no idea here, then a clever tool is going to be of limited use.

Q5.  Very good question.  In particular, how well does the MDM tool support all kinds of master data, not just “customer” and “product”.  I know i keep banging on about this, but if you start picking a CDI solution here and a PIM solution there then you will quickly have a new set of data silos to go with your old ones. You must consider the broader perspective of master data, where there are literally hundreds of types of data that need to be managed.  You may start with high value ones like customer, but can the solution extend itself to others?

Incidentally, remember to ask your consultancy or systems integrator a few questions too.  One question will do to start with: how many MDM projects has this particular set of consultants (rather than your firm in general) done, and can I speak to the last customer they each worked with?  That should put the cat amongst the pigeons….




2 thoughts on “Question master”

  1. I don’t know of such a source and it sounds a very good idea – maybe this is a business opportunity for you?

  2. One of the issues is getting a good (read: useful) reference.

    I think a register would be good, where people could enter the details of their implementations and contact details. Then people could find references independently. There could be some sort of “credit” system so that you get references if you give them.

    Do you know of anything liek that in existence ?

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