In the project jungle, your MDM initiative needs claws

Matthew Beyer makes a start on trying to come up with an approach to tackling master data initiatives.  Some of what he says makes good sense, as in “think strategically but act tactically”.  However I’d like to suggest a different approach to him in the way to prioritise.  The biggest problem with the issue of master data is one of scale.  Enterprises have a lot of systems and many types of master data, many far beyond the “10 systems” that is used as an illustration in the article.  Just one Shell subsidiary had 175 interfaces left AFTER they had implemented every module of SAP, to give a sense of the magnitude of the problem in a large company.  Hence an approach that says “just map all the master data in the enterprise and catalog which systems use each type of data” is going to be a severely lengthy process, which will probably get cancelled after a few months when little is to be shown for all the pretty diagrams.

I believe that a master data initiative needs to justify itself, just like any other project that is fighting for the enterprise’s scare resources and capital.  Hence I believe that a good approach is to start by identifying and costing problems that may be associated with master data, and putting a price tag on these problems.  For example, poor customer data could result in duplicate marketing costs, lower customer satisfaction, or misplaced deliveries.  Having an inability to get a view of supplier spend across the enterprise (as 68% of customers in one survey stated at a 2006 UK procurement conference) will have a cost in terms of not being able to get an optimal deal with suppliers, and in resulting in duplicate suppliers.  These things have real costs associated with them, and so, if fixed, have real hard dollar benefits.  Interviewing executives in marketing, procurement, finance, operations etc will soon start to tease out which operational issues are actually causing the business pain, and which have the greatest potential value if they could be fixed.  Business people may not be able to put a precise price tag on each problem, but they must be able to estimate at least a range.  If they cannot, then it is probably not that pressing a problem and you can move on to the next one. 

At the end of such an interview process you will have a series of business problems with estimates of potential savings, and can map this against the master data associated with these business processes.  Now you have a basis for priority.  If it turns out that there are tens of millions of dollars of savings to be gained from fixing problems with (say) supplier data, then that is a very good place to start your MDM pilot.

Such an approach assures you that you will be able to put a business case together for an MDM initiative, even if it has limited scope at first.  Such an initiative has a lot more chance or approval and ongoing survival that something that it perceived to be a purist or IT-led data modelling initiative. 

Provided that you adopt an architecture that can cope with master data in general and not just this one type specifically (i.e. try and avoid “hubs” that only address one type of master data) then you can build on the early success of a pilot project confident that the approach you have taken will be useful across the enterprise.  By getting an early quick win in this way you build the credibility for follow-on projects and can start to justify ongoing investment in protecting the integrity of master data in the future e.g. by setting up a business-led information assed competence centre where ownership of data is clearly defined. 

IT projects of any kind that fail to go through a rigorous cost-benefit case risk not being signed off, and then being cancelled part way through.  The race for funds and resources in a large company is a Darwinian one, so equip your MDM project with the ROI teeth and claws it needs to survive and justify itself.  When times turn sour and the CFO draws up a list of projects to “postpone”, a strong business-driven ROI case will go a long way to ensuring your MDM project claws its way to the top of the heap. 









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