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Master data management marketing bluster causing confusion

Customer data integration and other vendors are trying to be all things to all people when it comes to master data management.

When it comes to evaluating master data management (MDM) vendors, confusion reigns.

According to a recent report from analyst firm Forrester Research, customer data integration (CDI) vendors and other data integration specialists are rushing to brand themselves MDM vendors even when their focus is just one data domain, leaving many customers scratching their heads.

"The level of confusion … has reached a new high. Traditional CDI vendors fear becoming irrelevant if they don't call themselves MDM," the report says. "Worse yet, many large and small vendors have jumped on the MDM bandwagon even if their solution only targets data integration, workflow management, analytical, or data quality components of MDM."

Ray Wang, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester and co-author of the report, said a truly comprehensive MDM initiative covers multiple data domains – customer data, product data, employee data, and so on. In most cases, therefore, MDM requires more than just a single technology from a single vendor, despite marketing hype that says otherwise.

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"In reality, today an enterprise-class operational MDM capability that supports multiple data domains will likely require a best-of-breed combination of technologies from one or more vendors," the report says.

Joe Leithauser agrees. He is the director of enterprise IT at Cardinal Health, a medical supplies manufacturer and distributor based in Dublin, Ohio. Cardinal uses technology from a number of vendors to meet its MDM needs, including SAP-owned Business Objects, IBM Corp. and Purisma Inc.

"I don't think there is anybody that is a viable end-to-end MDM vendor across multiple domains," Leithauser said. "You've got to cobble technology together in order to create a solution to fit your business needs."

In the report, Wang also warned that MDM vendors are a few generations ahead of customers, "delivering more complex and feature-rich solutions than many end users require today." Customers should assess their level of MDM maturity and identify business drivers before picking a vendor, he said.

"Once you figure out what your requirements are, then you can break down the features you need," Wang said. "If it's compliance you're after, you're not going to go after referential data support."

Most of Forrester's clients that have begun MDM initiatives did so by focusing on a single data domain, most commonly customer data, he said. That was the case at Cardinal Health, which turned its attention to cleansing and standardizing its customer data around three years ago.

At the time, Leithauser had just implemented an enterprise data warehouse and determined that the next logical step was to consolidate customer data across the enterprise for analytics.

"We are really taking a domain-by-domain approach to this, as opposed to trying to do everything at once," Leithauser said. "What we wanted was to create an understanding of our hospital market across the enterprise, and that was our first real business need for an MDM solution."

Cardinal has completed phase 1 of its MDM project – cleansing and consolidation of customer data – and will soon tackle product data in phase 2.

Leithauser urged companies evaluating so-called MDM vendors to talk to as many reference customers as possible -- but not to be overly impressed by big-name references.

"Don't look and say, 'Bayer did this or Johnson & Johnson did this, so I'm going to do that.' MDM has to fit your culture," he said. "Take their ideas and understand them, but only implement what makes sense."

He also echoed Wang's advice -- identify specific business needs for MDM before evaluating vendors and technology. That will narrow the options and, hopefully, reduce confusion around competing vendor claims.

"You have to be somewhat creative in how you use the technology," Leithauser said. "Understand what your needs are, then find technology products to fit."

Have you recently launched an MDM initiative? Email SearchDataManagement.com editors with your story!

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