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Is MDM all hype?

The new emphasis on master data management (MDM) technology isn't resonating with everyone. Does MDM really warrant the hype?

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The recent emphasis being placed on master data management (MDM) bothers Peggy Bocks, enterprise consultant with EDS. It's not the new technology that gets to her -- though the hype can be deafening -- but yet another new term, new software to buy and more big promises from vendors.

"It worries me that we seem to have strategies du jour with CDI [customer data integration], EII [enterprise information integration], now MDM," Bocks said.

She has been working in what she calls the "continuum of data management to information architecture" for 25 years and has seen companies move from dealing with data in IT backrooms to considering data management a critical business initiative. While MDM technology might be useful, it's not the "silver bullet" that some vendors say it is, Bocks said. Meanwhile, she's worried that strategic concepts like top-down information architecture are getting lost in the technology terminology shuffle.

Bocks is not alone in her skepticism. While research has shown there's a demand and a need for MDM, analysts believe that widespread adoption is still years away. Further, the term MDM "might not resonate with users quite yet," said Henry Morris, group vice president and general manager of integration, development and application strategies at Framingham, Mass.-based research firm IDC. He said during a recent IDC survey of chief operating officers and chief financial officers, no one mentioned MDM by name, though some mentioned needing solutions to the problems of inconsistent data and inaccurate business reporting.

So, is MDM just another new buzzword that distracts from tried and true techniques like information architecture?

MDM is truly a new way of solving old data management problems, Morris said. Traditional information architecture focuses on the infrastructure and design of systems in a company, and can include practices like synchronizing data around a hub. These architecture approaches are much more monolithic than MDM. Applied MDM, which includes data governance techniques, along with MDM infrastructure tools, represents a more flexible way of approaching the problem.

Andrew White, research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., agrees that MDM is a legitimate solution for data management difficulties.

"Information architecture is lost," White said. "We're realizing that we need a different kind of governance model."

MDM is "80% old stuff and 20% new stuff," White said. The "old stuff" is technology expanded from product information management and CDI tools, as well as some of the data definition concepts of metadata management. The "new stuff" is a major emphasis on data governance and new MDM tools, which are different from anything the industry has seen before, White said.

MDM software, from companies like IBM, Kalido and others, acts as middleware, in essence giving systems a commonplace to look for approved data definitions. White describes this MDM software as an "intermediate tier between physical data and the consumption of that data." Combining software and data governance best practices, MDM is an innovative approach to solving data management problems, he said.

It's only a matter of time before companies start to adopt MDM, White said. The coming year will be one of awareness, and the peak of spending will come in two to three years, he predicts.

Between emerging technologies like SOA and RFID requiring consistent data definitions and motivators like heavy-handed fines for inaccurate reporting and non-compliance, analysts like Morris and White feel that MDM is a critical component to many business initiatives.

Bocks agrees that MDM has some good concepts, but still isn't convinced that it will solve the over-arching data management problems that many companies face. Instead, she's a proponent of "strategic information architecture," using the right technology and a well-planned information architecture to support competitive business models.

We want to hear from you:
What do you think about MDM? Do you think it will solve all your data management problems? Will you be implementing the new MDM technology or do you have another way of dealing with master data problems? Please email: Hannah Smalltree, News Writer.

This article originally appeared on on December 19, 2005.

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