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Recession is perfect time to make the MDM business case, Gartner speaker says

Data management pros should use the current economic downturn to sell master data management to skeptical managers, Gartner's MDM keynote speaker said.

CHICAGO -- You'd think selling master data management (MDM) to the boss would be downright futile during an economic downturn, when companies are focused on just "keeping the lights on" and are not looking to invest in new technology.

You'd think that, but you'd be wrong, according to Philip Lay, managing director of TCG Advisors, a San Bruno, Calif.-based IT consultancy.

Lay, the keynote speaker at yesterday's Gartner Master Data Management Summit at the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Chicago, told attendees that now is the time to buck conventional wisdom and "think like a contrarian" when it comes to MDM.

Instead of viewing the current economic downturn just as a dangerous time to be survived, companies should also consider it an opportunity to look inward to improve efficiencies, Lay said. Improved master data – be it customer or product data – can help companies do just that, he said.

That will be a tall order, however, according to some of the annual summit's attendees, who expressed reservations over their ability to overcome management fears.

Lay advised data management pros hoping to win over skeptical managers, who are understandably reluctant to invest large chunks of money in a new technology during lean times, that the key to making a successful business case for MDM is to tie MDM to specific, broken business processes.

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If, for example, you can illustrate how better master data will lead to improved cross-selling and – ultimately -- increased profits, executives and line-of-business managers are more likely to listen.

Or identify "processes that are on fire," which, once corrected by MDM, will give the company a leg-up on competitors that are content to maintain the status quo during a downturn.

"Now is the time to start putting the fires out," Lay said. "[As data management pros], we must be savvy about business processes" like supply chain management, cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, and marketing campaigns, and understand how MDM can improve them, he said.

He also urged attendees to make a compelling case for MDM adoption by stressing the potentially dire consequences of inaction. Make the case, for example, that maybe it was OK for a company to be late to market with a given product during boom times, but that doing so during a recession could be catastrophic. Then, once you have everyone's attention, explain how MDM can help.

"I think we need to be more provocative in what we think and what we write about MDM within our organizations, now more especially than in good [economic] times," Lay said. "There is no time like a downturn to get ahead of competitors."

It is important, too, for data management pros to target their MDM business cases to the right people, he said. To do that, having identified a broken business process that better master data can help fix, the next step is identifying the correct business stakeholder to pitch.

"Find something that really matters, a hot-button issue," Lay said, "then find the person who owns the broken process."

If data management pros follow this advice, he said, they are virtually guaranteed success. "I've never seen this thing fail to get a constructive response."

Not everyone was in agreement, however. Interviews with a number of attendees after the keynote revealed some skepticism that Lay's argument could sway their bosses and management, especially during a recession.

Attendee Pat Roppo, a systems analyst at Allstate Insurance, said the Northbrook, Ill.-based insurance firm is currently considering whether to invest in MDM. She said Lay's approach to building a business case for MDM was "interesting," but she doubts it would make much headway at Allstate.

"We see ups and downs so much in the insurance industry," Roppo said. "It's a good point to make, but I don't know how much it would resonate [with Allstate execs]."

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