Gartner describes the building blocks for a strong MDM program

MDM teams should consider these seven building blocks, outlined by Saul Judah, research director on the information management team at Gartner Inc.

From creating the business case for master data management (MDM), to implementing the necessary data governance processes and maintaining them over time, there is a lot that goes into realizing an MDM program that delivers.

One piece of advice is to remember that when implementing and maintaining an MDM program, it's important not to get too caught up in the technological aspects and forget about the business' needs. This is according to Saul Judah, a research director on the information management team at Stamford, Conn.-based IT analyst firm Gartner Inc.

MDM is a business-driven, technology-enabled environment and program. And you ought to recognize that in equal measure.

Saul Judah,
research director, Gartner Inc.

"MDM is a business-driven, technology-enabled environment and program," Judah said last week during a Gartner webinar. "And you ought to recognize that in equal measure."

To help organizations navigate the many challenges of MDM, Judah described Gartner's seven building blocks for a successful MDM initiative. When followed closely, Judah said, the seven steps will create a foundation that helps ensure the success of MDM initiatives from the ground up.

  • Crystalize your vision
    An MDM program must be aligned with the overall business strategy; otherwise it will fail to provide value to the organization. This can be difficult because in any organization there are many goals competing for attention, and some are more important than others.

    An MDM vision provides the "what" and the "why" of the program, identifying the crucial business goal that needs to be given a high priority. "The key is … to identify which of these is of greatest importance. How are you going to prioritize?" Judah said. "And that then really leads you to be clear on making sure that you have a vision that supports the organizational business strategy."
  • Map out a strategy
    After identifying a clear vision for the master data program, organizations need to create a strategy. This means considering the available resources and understanding the amount of time and money involved in executing an MDM plan. Identify the specific goals the company is trying to accomplish, the level of maturity of your current master data program, and what amount of resources it will take to get to the next level.

    "If you're able to get a sense and appreciation of what can be done, as opposed to what you'd like to do, you've got far more opportunity to actually be reasonable and rational when you create your strategy," Judah said.
  • Solidify your metrics
    Before an MDM program is implemented, teams should identify what metrics are most important and most indicative of success. Those metrics should align with the goals and the strategy of the MDM project and, ultimately, of the business. If the goal of the program is to improve customer data, one metric to keep an eye on would be the percentage increase of the accuracy of customer data over time.

    Master data teams should also try to identify the specific business outcomes that metrics translate into. For a program where the metric is customer data accuracy, then pitches to executives should focus on the way improved accuracy could lend better insight into sales patterns and other business parameters that could influence business strategies. Judah explained that, "If you are able to make that link, you going to be in a very, very good position to get further funding."
  • Build a governance hierarchy
    An effective governance structure at a large organization usually consists of people working at multiple levels to guide work in the right direction. This is absolutely critical to master data success. "Governance is about decision making and ensuring that you have an authority framework that takes decisions and is able to measure the execution of those decisions," Judah said.

    An effective governance program requires a well-defined hierarchy, headed by a sponsor -- someone in a position of authority who carries the necessary weight and cross-departmental authority to make MDM governance a reality.
  • Maintain strong organization
    One of the most important roles in the world of master data is that of the data steward. Judah explained that data stewards should be thought of as "trustees to ensure that adequate data quality is maintained so that the data can support business practices."

    In order to live up to this ideal, Judah advised that data stewards should come from the business side of the organization and should be visible and respected. He emphasized that data stewards need to be influencers in order to help build a culture that values the high level of data quality necessary in master data.

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  • Navigate the master data life cycle
    An MDM life cycle is a way of thinking about which processes are affected by the changes being made with master data. Judah emphasized that unless the MDM program is conceived with an understanding of the organization's business processes, it will not affect the overall operation of the business. There is little business value in a master data program that does not actually influence and improve the business process.

    The key is to break down the workflow and understand which specific application systems are used in each business process. Then adjust the master data plan to include how the business processes are currently supported and how the MDM program is expected to change and improve over time.
  • Construct a solid infrastructure
    Getting the master data infrastructure right is absolutely critical. Judah advises that teams first agree on what they need from an infrastructure, weight and prioritize those criteria, and then evaluate the available technology products that can help get the job done.

    There are many different implementation styles to choose from. These should be evaluated based on what the program's goals are, said Judah, because each one provides different capabilities and requires different levels of architectural commitment and organizational change.

Judah counseled teams to look closely at their own organizational structure and determine what specific challenges within their company could hinder an MDM program. His advice is to look at each of the seven building blocks, identify the challenges and have a plan for addressing them if and when they come up.

He also warned against biting off too much to begin with. "The closer that you manage scope, the more likely you are that you will be successful in delivering that."

This was first published in August 2013

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