Monday, December 12, 2005

MDM gets the blues, or at least the blue

In case anyone has any doubt about the reality of the master data management (MDM) market, it is worth noting that IBM has now set up a significant business unit dedicated to MDM, with 1,000 staff, in its vast software group division. This follows a series of acquisitions (Ascential for data movement technology, Trigo for product management, DWL for customer information synchronisation, SRD for identity management).

So far this set of tools still has gaps, though. As I noted elsewhere, BP has 350 different types of master data being managed by KALIDO MDM, and customer and product are just two of these 350 categories. It would seem excessive to expect a customer to buy 348 further technologies once they have bought their CDI and PIM products, so it seems clear to me that a more generic approach to MDM is required than tackling each specific type of data with a different technology. Moreover IBM still lacks a technology to deal with the "analytic" part of MDM, something which can help manage the semantic integration of the various business models which large corporations have, and which contribute heavily to the diversity of master data. Buying piecemeal technologies that tackles specific data-types, however clever they may be (and DWL and Trigo both had excellent reputations) is not going to solve the enterprise-wide problems that large companies face in managing their master data. It seems to me that, while incomplete, IBM has a better grasp of the issues than Oracle or SAP, which has already ditched its first MDM offering, while the SAP MDME solution, based on technology acquired from A2i, has had poor initial feedback from early prospects. "Even worse than the original SAP MDM" is one customer assessment which cannot be encouraging to the German giant. Moreover IBM, with its deliberate abstinence from application software, has the advantage of not being perceived as quite as aggressive as SAP or Oracle. One CIO memorably described IBM as the "beige of the IT industry" meaning that it was neutral and inoffensive compared to many others.

I see there being an evolution in most master data initiatives, the first stage being the analysis of the problem, classifying the various different business definitions that exist for master data in the enterprise; this goes well beyond customer and product e.g. "Asset", "brand", "person", "location" are all important types of master data. The next stage is to document the existing processes for managing change within these categories (mostly manual, involving email) and the governance and authority levels involved e.g. not everyone can authorize the creation of a new brand. This will then require either automation of this workflow, or some process redesign (probably both). Finally the new workflow will need to be linked up to some form of messaging infrastructure e.g. EAI technology, so that changes to the master data can be physically propagated throughout the various operational systems in the corporation. At present there are various technologies around to tackle elements of the problem, but they are far from joined up.

The MDM market is in a nascent state, with people still coming to terms with the issues and trying to piece together where the technology offerings fit. The business problems which it addresses are very real in terms of operational efficiency, so there should be plenty of value there for companies that have compelling offerings. IBM has realized this earlier than most.

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