Master Data comes to London – day 1

This week is the CDI/MDM Institute London conference. It is a useful bellwether of MDM progress in the UK, and based on the attendance today it looks like MDM interest is indeed picking up in the UK. There are just over 300 attendees and 22 vendors exhibiting. Compared to the one last year there are encouragingly more customer case studies (last year the speakers were mostly vendors presenting), for example from Panasonic, BT, Harrods, Allied Bakeries, M&S and the Co-Op.

It is noticeable that the CDI v MDM debate continues to favour the broader view that customer is just one (important) type of master data, with the MDM acronym now being used by most of the vendors. The Panasonic case study was a good example, starting out as a product master data initiative and now spreading to customer, and then on to market information. The speaker was able to share some real business benefits form the initiative (enabling new products to be launched two weeks quicker as well as data quality savings), measured in millions of pounds. IBM claimed to be integrating its various acquired technologies, which is an improvement from the conversation I had with them a year ago when it was claimed that there was nothing wrong with having a clutch of separate, incompatible repositories, one for customer, one for product etc. When I asked how many different repositories would be needed to cope with all the different types of master data in an enterprise I received the mystical answer “seven”, at which point I gave up as the conversation had seemed to move into the metaphysical realm. We shall see where the integration efforts lead.

Aaron Zornes gave a useful high level split of the MDM market into the groupings of:

– operational e.g. CDI hubs like Siperian, Oracle
– analytical e.g. Hyperion Razza, Data Foundations
– collaborative i.e. workflow (e.g. Kalido does a lot of this)

which seems to me a useful split. Certainly no one vendor does everything, so understanding where the strengths of the vendors are, even in this simplistic way, at least helps customers narrow down which vendors are most likely to match their particular problem.

IBM, Initiate, SAS and Kalido are the main sponsors of the event, and once again SAP chose not to attend (to be fair, SAP did speak at two of the US MDM conferences). Nimesh Mehta assures me that SAP MDM is making steady market progress, but with no numbers he is willing to share I cannot verify this. However the buzz at the conference suggest that most customers here are using products from specialist vendors. One repeated theme in talking to SAP MDM early adopters is its apparent inability to deal well with customer data, perhaps not surprising given the A2i heritage of the product. No doubt SAP has lots of resources to throw at this problem, but at present it is not obvious that it is getting much in the way of production deployments. Clearly SAP’s dominant market position should get it on to every MDM shortlist, but how many real broad deployments there are in production is much less clear.

There were a couple of entertaining exhibit conversations. One Dilbert-esque one was with a sales person. I asked the following question “what does your product do – is it a repository, or data quality tool, or something else?”, The sales person took a sudden physical step back like a scalded cat and said “oh, a technical question; I’ll need to find someone else to answer that.” Now maybe I’m old-fashioned but “what does your product do?” seems to me a question that even a software salesman should be able to hazard a guess at. What kind of questions do you think this salesperson is likely to be able to field? I’m guessing anything beyond “where is the bar?” or “where do I sign the order form” is going to prove challenging.

I was amused to see Ab Initio had a stand. Ab Initio is famous in the industry for its secretive nature e.g. customers have to sign a NDA in order to see a product demo. This is driven by its eccentric founder Sheryl Handler, and makes life hard for its sales and marketing staff. There was indeed no printed brochure or material of any kind, and they (very charming) sales person I spoke to was unable to confirm very much about the company other than it seemed pretty certain that there was a UK office. Ab Initio’s technology has the reputation of being the fastest performing data transformation tool around, and in the UK has most of the really heavy-duty data users (BT, Vodaphone, Tesco, Sainsbury etc) as customers. It must certainly make it interesting trying to sell the thing, but perhaps the aura of mystery paradoxically helps; after all, this is not a company that anyone could accuse of aggressive marketing.

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