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Gartner and Forrester refute master data management system claims

To combat confusion, Forrester and Gartner released frameworks for evaluating master data management technology. They say that no one tool can solve all master data management problems.

If you're getting more confused about master data management (MDM) tools with each new product announcement, you're not alone.

Gartner and Forrester both recently released new frameworks and advice for understanding MDM-related technologies. The two firms' approaches are slightly different, but both study authors say they hope to help users make sense of the growing MDM tools market and dispel the confusion caused by vendors clamoring for leadership.

"Master data management is not a technology market, but a business capability," said Rob Karel, principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "All of the vendors branding themselves as an MDM solution, I liken to comparing apples and Volkswagens. They're all very different pieces of the larger complex technology puzzle that's required to solve the master data management capability."

Vendors from across the IT landscape emerged in force in the last few months, joining such players as IBM, SAP and Burlington, Mass.-based Kalido Inc. in announcing MDM products. Dayton, Ohio-based Teradata partnered with Dallas-based i2 Technologies Inc. for its new Teradata MDM platform. Other announcements amounted to repositioning and re-branding. Product information management (PIM) vendor TIBCO Software Inc., based in Palo Alto, Calif., announced its Collaborative Information Manager MDM application. Customer data integration (CDI) players made their move as well. Redwood City, Calif.-based Purisma Inc. updated and re-named its "data hub," and San Mateo, Calif.-based Siperian Inc. emerged with a new "customer-centric MDM" hub. Other pure-play vendors and big players alike have scrambled to use MDM label.

Of course, every vendor has a slightly different take, and the relative infancy of the MDM discipline makes product comparisons tough. Buyers should be wary of any vendor that claims to solve MDM problems with just one tool -- an impossible feat, Gartner and Forrester analysts agreed.

Forrester: Evaluate your MDM ecosystem

Karel introduced the concept of an "MDM ecosystem audit guide," a tool intended to help companies identify technology components that should be part of their data supply chain.

"MDM is a capability which will cross multiple technology platforms," Karel said, "because information is being captured, managed and consumed across many platforms."

An MDM capability may include processes and technologies such as data governance and stewardship, data quality management, integration tools, service-oriented architectures -- as well as systems that help manage master data definitions. Ultimately, successful MDM will be achieved by combining a wide variety of technologies and applications that create, manage and consume master data. Some capabilities might already exist in a company, Karel said. In fact, he added, companies could conceivably manage master data with no tools bearing the MDM label at all.

"If you knit together some of these disparate tools [that you already have] with custom code and random wrappers, you can create an MDM solution for your company -- it just won't be pretty," Karel said. "The vendors that will be successful are the ones that [can] create a more seamless administrative experience and the ones that allow you to leverage your existing investments."

No vendors really fit that description today, though some, such as IBM, are further along than others, Karel said. And there are more mature sub-segments of MDM, namely CDI or PIM, with vendors that have successfully addressed the problems of managing a specific kind of data entity. But, he said, a true MDM capability should address multiple kinds of data entities -- not just customer or product -- and that's where the complexity comes in.

Gartner: Consider the MDM continuum

The Gartner study placed vendors on an "MDM continuum," according to Andrew White, study co-author and research vice president with the Stamford, Conn.-based analyst firm. The continuum looks like a horizontal line, with "MDM niche" vendors on the left, "MDM generalists" on the right, and infrastructure giants Oracle and SAP in the middle.

The niche vendors on the extreme left of the continuum solve complex problems in certain industries or domains, White explained. These products can handle the complexities of very specific kinds of entities, such as customer or product data. They can potentially manage thousands of attributes and hundreds of hierarchies and are suited for operational purposes. This is where PIM and CDI vendors fit in, he said. Gartner placed IBM, Siperian and Wayne, Penn.-based PIM vendor FullTilt Solutions Inc. on this end of the continuum.

Products that appear closer to right side come from generalists and help companies get a single view of many different data entities, White said. These products are probably more appropriate for analytics and business intelligence uses. Generalists' products handle many different kinds of entities with relatively low complexity -- for example, labeling many master data objects with a low number (say, five to 25) of attributes. Kalido; Hackensack, N.J.-based Data Foundations Inc.; and Paris-based Orchestra Networks appear on this end of the continuum.

The study was specifically presented as a continuum, not a ranking, White said. Like all IT programs, the selected MDM tool should fit a company's specific problem, and legacy vendors might not always be the best choice, he cautioned.

"Vendors are making hay with [MDM]. They're all calling themselves MDM vendors," White said. "Customers have to be very careful. It's not that one MDM vendor is better. It's really about form fitting function. Where is your business? What is your particular problem of the day, and what will your problem be next year? Then figure out which data is most important, and look at that part of the continuum."

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