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Master data management making headway in the public sector

After a slow start, master data management is starting to make headway in the public sector, helping state and federal agencies tackle identity management.

When it comes to implementing new technologies, the public sector generally doesn't enjoy a reputation as a cutting-edge, early adopter. Certainly not when it comes to master data management (MDM).

But as MDM gains traction in industries like financial services and pharmaceuticals, among others, more federal and state agencies are beginning to test the waters, implementing MDM systems to improve their identity management capabilities. Public sector agencies are using MDM to gain a single view of their clients – i.e., citizens – often one department, sometimes one division, at a time.

"I can tell you that many organizations within the public sector have leveraged MDM at all levels – local, state, federal -- both within the U.S. and abroad, but I wouldn't say most," said Rob Karel, a principal analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. "And like many other industries, many of these implementations are localized within specific parts of the organization, supporting specific functions, and not implemented for multiple data domains across the entire agency."

The state of North Dakota's Human Services Department (HSD) sent out an MDM RFP in February 2007 after determining that its internal, homegrown identity-matching system was falling short. The department, which manages the state's Medicaid program, wanted to eliminate duplicate citizen entries that were complicating the task of determining eligibility and claims requirements. There are currently nearly 55,000 North Dakotans on Medicaid.

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"Our data is still trapped in a lot of our transactional operational systems," said Jennifer Witham, HSD's IT services director. "So the quality of the data and the management of the data has been a more traditional silo'ed approach. The validation and the quality components are more of a reflection of the application systems themselves."

After putting several competing vendors through a proof-of-concept, HSD selected Chicago-based Initiate's Identity Hub, now called Initiate Citizen, in June 2007. The tool, when fully implemented, will reconcile duplicate citizen entries to allow HSD workers to easily identify clients and ultimately improve customer service.

Previously, for example, if a North Dakotan who had been on Medicaid earlier re-entered the program, he might have been given a new Medicaid number, making it difficult to make any historical links. HSD hopes that Initiate Citizen, designed specifically for public sector agencies, will help "make sure we have a more stringent matching protocol for identifying people that may already be on Medicaid or had been on Medicaid in the past," Witham said.

HSD also plans to use Initiate's technology to improve its ability to identify and track trends among its mental health and substance abuse clients, including job history and participation in other HSD assistance programs. Witham said HSD has completed extracting and loading data into Initiate Citizen and expects its department-wide implementation to be complete within two years.

Building an MDM business case for the public sector

As for extending MDM capabilities to other North Dakota state agencies, Witham echoed Karel, saying there is interest from other agencies but no large-scale coordinated effort to implement MDM throughout the state bureaucracy. The state's education department, for example, is in the midst of an MDM proof-of-concept, but not necessarily to integrate its data with HSD data. "They're looking to MDM for … data studies that they're a part of," she said.

Still, Witham said she thinks more agencies are starting to realize the benefits of MDM, especially when it comes to healthcare-related data.

"I think there are opportunities where people are starting to look at data sharing across different entities," she said. "At the heart of that, I believe, is this identity management, which doesn't necessarily have to be an individual. It could be across business names too."

Budget constraints, of course, often hinder public sector agencies from implementing MDM technologies, Forrester's Karel said. At the HSD, Witham said selling the investment to management and the legislature was made easier by the support of her Medicaid and mental health directors. But both said building a solid business case is important to getting the MDM green light from whichever person, agency or public body holds the purse strings.

"I think MDM is really expensive, so the budget to introduce something like MDM at a broad level probably doesn't exist in the public sector as readily as [in] the private sector," Karel said. "So the better you can articulate how poorly managed data is inflicting pain or reducing opportunity, the better you'll be able to build a business case [for MDM]."

Are you part of a public sector agency that has implemented master data management? Email editors with your story!

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