Orchestrating MDM Workflow

France is rarely associated with enterprise software innovation (test: name a French software company other than Business Objects) but in MDM there are two interesting vendors. I have already written about Amalto, but the more established French MDM player is Orchestra Networks. Founded in 2000, this company has been selling its wares in the French market since 2003, and has built up some solid customer references, mainly in the financial services arena but also with global names such as Sanofi Aventis and Kraft.

The great strength of their EBX technology is the elaborate support for complex business process workflow, an area neglected by most MDM vendors. For example a customer may have an international product code hierarchy, and distribute this to several regions. Each of the regional branches may make local amendments to this, so what happens when a new version of the international hierarchy is produced? EBX provides functionality to detect differences between versions or branches and to allow for merging of these versions, supporting both draft “project” master data and the production versions, keeping track of all changes and supporting the workflow rules to support the full life-cycle of master data creation and update.

Typically such functionality is delivered with only by PIM vendors (Kalido is an exception), yet EBX is fully multi-domain by design, so is not restricted to any one class of master data. This will give it an advantage in competitive situations with vendors who have historically designed their technology around one type of master data (customer or product) and are only now realising the need to support multiple domains.

So far Orchestra Networks has confined itself to France, but opens its first overseas office in London soon. The company has taken the time to build out its technology to a solid level of maturity, and has productive partnerships with Informatica (for data quality and ETL) and Software AG, who OEM EBX and sell it globally at the heart of their own MDM offering.

In my own experience of MDM projects, the handling of the business processes around creating and updating master data is a key issue, yet most hub vendors have virtually ignored it, assuming this is somehow “out of scope”. Hub vendors typically focus on system to system communication e.g. validating a new customer code by checking a repository, and perhaps suggesting possible matches if a similar name is found. This is technically demanding as it is near real-time. However human to system interaction is also important, especially outside the customer domain, where business processes can be much more complex. By providing sophisticated support for this workflow Orchestra Networks can venture into situations where CDI vendors cannot easily go, and as I have written previously there are plenty of real business problems in MDM beyond customer.

It will be interesting to see how Orchestra Networks fares as it ventures outside of France in 2008.

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