The Weather Channel LLC has chosen open source master data management (MDM) tools from Talend over competing proprietary products from Microsoft Corp. and other software vendors, an official with the organization said.
The Atlanta, Ga.-based news outlet -- which is devoted to all things weather -- said the plan to go with Talend Enterprise MDM stemmed from a longstanding commitment to open source technology and the fact that it has already been successfully using Talend data integration software for the last two years.
The Weather Channel, which began implementing the open source MDM platform last week, says it was drawn to the idea that the software package fully integrates with the Talend extract, transform and load (ETL) tools already in use. The company also liked that Talend Enterprise MDM comes pre-packaged with data quality and data integration tools of its own.
"We looked a little bit at a couple of players in the space, mainly Microsoft," said Ben Garrett, the company's director of advertising technology and business intelligence (BI). "But the compelling argument for us was that, because we are already ingrained with Talend, it made perfect sense for us to pursue this as the right path."
MDM tools help users create policy-based workflows designed to ensure that important information about customers and products are accurately and consistently represented across business units. For example, the term "customer" may have slightly different meanings within different applications and this can lead to lapses in customer service. MDM software gives organizations the tools to make sure that disparate systems and applications all define customer the same way.
But IT industry experts -- and The Weather Channel's Garrett -- are quick to point out that technology is just one small aspect of the MDM methodology. The more important part of MDM is about people and processes -- getting workers throughout an organization to agree on the definitions of certain terms while enforcing data governance policies.
"MDM is the technology enabler for a data governance program," Garrett said. "You can't tackle one without tackling the other."
Open source MDM to provide a better view of customers
Best known for its 24-hour cable channel, The Weather Channel also has "a huge presence" on the Web through its popular site Weather.com, Garett said. In addition, the company offers customizable apps for people who like to get weather reports sent directly to mobile devices such as the iPhone and BlackBerry.
Like most news organizations, The Weather Channel makes money by selling advertising to customer companies, and that advertising may take several forms. It could be a 30-second commercial on the company's cable TV station, a banner ad on Weather.com or an advertising message sent directly to users of the company's mobile apps. Often, customers will purchase customized packages of advertising spots on all three platforms.
"The Weather Channel is essentially two major businesses shoved together into one. We have the television business that has been around for [almost 30 years] now. It's got established practices [and systems] that support the revenue generation process," Garrett said. "The digital business has been around for much less time and uses very different systems."
The Weather Channel also deployed Salesforce.com's hosted customer relationship management (CRM) application last year in an effort to make life easier for salespeople in the field.
"One of the promises of [Salesforce.com is] for us is to be able to view the business on the whole as one business, as opposed to viewing the digital business as separate from the television business," Garrett explained. "In order to meet that need, we had to figure out a way to represent customers as a single view."
That's when the company decided to launch a data governance and MDM program and began evaluating software vendors. Once the implementation of Talend Enterprise MDM is complete, The Weather Channel will focus on gaining a consistent view of customers across Salesforce.com and its back-end systems. After that, Garrett said the company will turn its attention to gaining better visibility into its advertising products catalog.
"Even though we sell products to the same advertising customers across all of the platforms," Garrett said, "it's difficult for us to see it all in a single view because of the fact that we have these really different systems."
A veteran user of open source technologies such as the Linux operating system, the MySQL database management system and development tools from The Apache Software Foundation, The Weather Channel expects the implementation of Talend to go smoothly.
The topic of open source has been known to make some company executives nervous about privacy and security issues, but The Weather Channel believes open source technologies have generally evolved past the need to worry about such concerns.
"The Weather Channel has been sort of an open source leader for years," Garrett said. "Security has not been a concern because we've built competency in supporting those kinds of things."
Top-down commitment is the key to MDM success
IT professionals considering an MDM initiative need to remember to start at the top, according to Garrett. That means getting executive level support early on so the organization's commitment to data governance will be effectively communicated to the company as a whole.
A bottom-up approach – in which individual departments try to enact MDM tools and policies on a piecemeal basis without executive buy-in -- will most likely be disjointed and ineffective.
"The communication has to come from the executive level and say that data and its governance and proper use has to become a focus," Garrett said. "It has to be sort of a cultural change and the organization has to dedicate a focus to making data quality a priority."
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