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Gartner MDM Summit: Office politics continue to hinder MDM initiatives

Convincing business managers to share control of data is one of the biggest obstacles on the path to master data management success, according to IT pros at the Gartner MDM Summit.

LOS ANGELES -- One of the biggest obstacles to master data management (MDM) success is convincing the managers of individual business units that it's OK to share information, according to technology professionals attending this week's Gartner MDM Summit.

MDM is an increasingly popular methodology that combines technology, data governance and business processes in an effort to arrive at "a single source of the truth." The goal is to synchronize data across an organization's business units and, as a result, improve everything from the customer experience to business intelligence (BI) reporting and analysis.

Getting there requires a willingness on the part of business managers -- the data owners -- to share information across the organization. But asking business managers to do so can lead to fears that giving up any semblance of control will somehow make them less valuable to the company, technology professionals said.

"MDM is all about having one truth, which means that you have to share the data," said Frank Badolato, a data architect with airplane manufacturer Boeing. "One of the things that I'm going to bring back is to try to start using the term 'stewardship' instead of 'ownership' so that maybe some of these managers won't feel so tied to their data."

For many organizations, the problem often boils down to changing company culture. At Boeing, for example, employees used to be rewarded for coming up with solutions to problems on their own. Many would be given internal "patents," which essentially meant that they owned whatever solution they created. In recent years, however, Boeing has abandoned this approach in an effort to increase collaboration. Company officials are now often heard touting a "One Boeing" concept of teamwork.

"When you have a patent and you're working on something, it's not advantageous to share it with everybody," Badolato said. "Now we're all about this collaborative environment, and it's a complete reversal of what these people are used to. We have a lot of sites across the country and across the world, and it's hard to get people to start doing things one way."

Manish Gupta, who is responsible for the database, storage and BI infrastructure at a large media and publishing organization, has been trying to centralize data management and implement MDM across five individual companies. He agreed that the job security concerns of line-of-business managers often slow down the process.

"We are now heavily thinking of how we create that centralized way of managing master data, and [at the same time] we are trying to figure out our data integration issues between divisions and stuff like that," Gupta said. "It's all political."

One way to ease the concerns of business managers is to keep them in the MDM loop and involved in the MDM process from the beginning. It's also a good idea to show them how improved data quality can lower costs, reduce risk and ultimately make the business managers' individual business units more successful.

"Get the businesses to really be part of the process. Get them involved," Gupta said. "Otherwise, [the MDM project will be] a big nuisance."

Leaders of MDM initiatives need to emphasize the idea that MDM is an ongoing process -- not a project with an end in sight -- and they need to continually show the business value of MDM, said Isabelle Davis, the senior project manager for MDM at Watts Water Technologies Inc. in North Andover, Mass.

The process of showing business value to co-workers can vary widely depending on whose concerns are being addressed, Davis added. For example, when talking to a BI person, show how improved data will lead to more accurate analyses.

"You can do reporting on anything you want all day long, but if the data isn't correct, you're going to have inaccurate reports," she said. "That's what I would say to a BI person."

When talking to the chief financial officer or CEO, show how MDM will streamline processes and reduce the costs associated with manually correcting erroneous data.

"Take your key MDM point and match it to a key business point," Davis said. "That's where the money savings come and that's what the CEO is thinking about."

Mark Brunelli is the News Editor for Follow him on Twitter @Brunola88.

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