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Business Involvement and the “Shadow MDM Platform”

Over 4-5 April 2012 Orchestra Networks participated in the Gartner MDM Summit in Los Angeles, CA, USA.

We had great discussions with hundreds of enthusiastic attendees that visited our booth and came to our sessions.   Special note to attendees: look for an email from Gartner describing how to access video of all the sessions.  Through the streaming tool you’ll be able to replay our M.D.M. Live session, which includes comments from  Technip about how MDM supports their multi-billion Euro oil & gas projects and a demo of our MDM solution, EBX.

While there were a slew of very interesting sessions—MDM and … big data, ECM, BPM, governance — I noticed that the attendees kept asking questions around business engagement.  Specifically:

How do we get the business to fund, participate and support master data management (MDM) projects?

There was a LOT of ensuing discussion about why engagement is essential and Gartner took great pains to describe the consequences of not engaging the business. But here’s the funny thing. The business is already doing MDM. They’re just doing it in Excel.

Despite its well-known limitations (no auditing, no validations, no business rules), Excel became the “Shadow MDM Platform” in your organization because it’s easy to:

  • Create authoring “screens” and import data,
  • View all kinds of relational and hierarchical data, and
  • Add comments, tags, store metadata

Add in email and functions like VLOOKUP and you’ve got workflow and master data distribution strategy. In fact, anecdotal evidence suggests use of Excel in this manner far exceeds use of any “formal” MDM tools within an organization. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is an effective strategy. I find the lack of data models/schemas in Excel is particularly painful, to wit zero padded identifiers are not numbers!)

I bring up the “Shadow MDM Platform” because satisficing your business users requires selecting a MDM platform that is at least as good as the combination of email and Excel.   Delighting means getting a platform that’s better than Excel, specifically filling Excels’ gaps in auditing, history and simulation.  This means that a MDM platform that must:

  1. Be easy to learn with support for master data authoring, import and documentation
  2. Support multiple kinds of data both relational and hierarchical (and the design of hierarchies)
  3. Provide workflow and auditing, and
  4. Make it simple to share master data with any interested party (or application) in or outside of your enterprise in a secure way

(If you’ve got MDM your users should be able to give up emailing multi-megabyte spreadsheets).

Today many vendors are just focused on one of those four musts  (with some focused almost exclusively on match, merge,  de-dupe, which is a small portion of authoring). Worse, most of those platforms don’t deal with change very well.  For example, we’ve learned some platforms require UIs rewrites (and testing, deployment, etc.) every time you modify the underlying model. This leaves the firm with an MDM platform that can’t satisfice the business AND additional IT spend.

Then again this is why EBX different.  Philosophically, we don’t think MDM should be painful. Pragmatically, we provide everything you need to support master data throughout its with features that make it easy for your users to give up Excel.

I’ve got many funny excel stories (and a series of “reference workbooks” I’ve carted around for years). What about you – email your crazy stories to conrad.chuang@orchestranetworks.com and I’ll post the best ones.

By Conrad Chuang