Master Data Management Does Not Equal The Single Source Of Truth

Michele Goetz
Principal Analyst
October 26, 2012

The number one reason I hear from IT organizations for why they want to embark on MDM is for consolidation or integration of systems. Then, the first question I get, how do they get buy-in from the business to pay for it?

My first reaction is to cringe because the implication is that MDM is a data integration tool and the value is the matching capabilities. While matching is a significant capability, MDM is not about creating a golden record or a single source of truth.

My next reaction is that IT missed the point that the business wants data to support a system of engagement. The value of MDM is to be able to model and render a domain to fit a system of engagement. Until you understand and align to that, your MDM effort will not support the business and you won’t get the funding. If you somehow do get the funding, you won’t be able to appropriately select the MDM tool that is right for the business need, thus wasting time, money, and resources.

Here is why I am not a fan of the “single source of truth” mantra. A person is not one-dimensional; they can be a parent, a friend, or a colleague, and each has different motivations and requirements depending on the environment. A product is as much about the physical aspect as it is about the pricing, message, and sales channel it is sold through. Or, it is also faceted by the fact that it is put together from various products and parts from partners. In no way is a master entity unique or has a consistency depending on what is important about the entity in a given situation. What MDM provides are definitions and instructions on the right data to use in the right engagement. Context is a key value of MDM.

When organizations have implemented MDM to create a golden record and single source of truth, domain models are extremely rigid and defined only within a single engagement model for a process or reporting. The challenge is the master entity is global in nature when it should have been localized. This model does not allow enough points of relationship to create the dimensions needed to extend beyond the initial scope. If you want to now extend, you need to rebuild your MDM model. This is essentially starting over or you ignore and build a layer of redundancy and introduce more complexity and management.

The model is all-important for MDM and this model cannot be entrenched to the physical data store or application. When you embark on MDM, make sure the reason you do this is to align master entities to a system of engagement defined by the business. Do not feel you have to get to one version of the truth. Model the data to allow for flexibility in different situations and leverage keys to enforce connectivity. Doing so means your MDM initiative is about supporting a business need over solving an IT management and cost issue that is hard for the business to digest. You will speak in terms the business understands when you discuss their objectives, leaving the technical talk for your architect discussions. That gets you buy in to invest and help the business succeed.


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