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Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Dispelling the MDM Myth

Can we please put an end to starting with the technology?!

It’s not very often that I take issue with one individual person. But while flipping through my Twitter feed this week, Grandite’s Axel Troike put me onto this article: “MDM: Highly recommended, still misunderstood,” by Michele Goetz of research firm Forrester and published on Information-Management.com. And it kind of upset me.

Now to the casual reader not deeply versed in Information and Data Management practice, it probably comes across that "MDM" means - and ONLY means - "MDM Software System." To my mind, that's ambiguous at best, disingenuous at worst. Further, this core mistake is still being made by so many companies and people (e.g. as witnessed by Nicola Askham at this week’s BritishComputer Science Data Management Specialist event).

In my view, this is one of the key reasons for the failure of so many MDM projects. Master Data Management is a mindset, an architectural choice, an approach, a process, an organisational issue, a cultural consideration – all of the above (as are most other Information Management disciplines). In short, it's a very human problem.

How you execute your agenda to solve that problem may then be supported by a specific data management system – or not as the case may be.

Now, I’d expect such a narrow technology-centric point of view to be propagated by the software vendors themselves – they’re in business to sell you their products, after all! (I’m looking at you, IBM, Informatica, SAS, Oracle…) And disappointing though it may be, I’ll grudgingly accept that it makes a certain amount of short-term sense for those guys to be fast and loose with their marketing language and to imply that buying their software is going to be the end to addressing all of your problems. (Hint: it will be actually the START of addressing all your problems. Hey ho…)

But I’d expect much, much more from someone positioned as an expert commentator and industry analyst.

This isn’t the only time that Ms. Goetz has made this type of error either. In her blog post “Judgement Data for Data Quality”, she effectively implies a conflated position in respect of “Data Quality” to imply “Data Quality Tools.”

I’m not trying to suggest that there is a deliberately egregious intent on the part of Ms. Goetze or Forrester. But perhaps Forrester's overall perspective is unintentionally being skewed by their relationship with the major product vendors who subscribe to be included in the Wave analysis? Certainly, if you read her wider body of work, Ms. Goetz seems to have a good working knowledge of the broader issues of our industry and understands (at least at a high level) that the issues of information management, data governance and analytics go beyond the technological.

Context and perspective is everything and such articles do little to help set it. In highlighting these examples in particular, I’m aiming to illustrate a broader perspective that we need to be diligent in maintaining good editorial rigour to ensure that a holistic, human centric approach is at the heart of everything we do. Articles such as this one from CIO.com are in the ballpark, but they are still too few and too far between. There is still a huge and ongoing educational effort required to even get Information Management recognised as something that is different from, and complementary to, “I.T.”

Meanwhile, poorly framed pieces such as this let the readership down - and ultimately contribute to giving the whole Information and Data Management sector a bad rep.


  1. Credit where credit is due... It may only be five short bullet points within a four-page, paper. But Trillium have actually mentioned some human and organisational factors in their new paper on data quality principles. Well done Trillium!

  2. I used this phrase in a question after an AIIM presentation by John Mancini but it didn't get much traction so let's try it again: It's time for an Emancipation Declaration for Data. It needs to be managed independent of the applications it is acquired by, transformed in, and distributed by.

    In the Quantum Semantics Lab we are using some very old ideas combined with a handful of carefully selected principles (and Principals) and tools to get there.

    Up the revolution!

    John O'Gorman
    Chief Disambiguation Officer
    Quantum Semantics Inc

  3. Thanks John. I totally agree with you and a big part of my work over the last 20 years has been to highlight that Information Management disciplines are understood to be different from, and complementary to, IT disciplines.

    I don't think it helps that within tertiary education, there are still relatively few information-related courses, and those that do exist are typically buried within the Computer Sciences discipline.

    We've still got plenty of work to do!

  4. +1 (from a Vendor). Here at Semarchy, we believe that MDM software is "helping" Governance (people/process/approach). So it is a supporting system and not a "magic wand" that would solve all problems.

    When talking to customers, I make it clear that 80% of their time in an MDM initiative will be spent with no software product (I call it "Governance"), and 20% will be the MDM "implementation), made preferably with our tool :-).

    BTW, this post made me think of one I wrote a long time ago: "MDM is not about products and tools? Well…" http://www.semarchy.com/semarchy-blog/mdm-not-about-products/

  5. Thanks FX! That's indeed a refreshing mindset from a product vendor! :)

    Does Semarchy have a UK-based partner ecosystem? Maybe there's an opportunity to explore further collaboration once I get back to the UK at the start of July.

  6. I agree entirely with the sentiment that we need to keep the human view in mind. I work in IT, in commercial environments within an Enterprise (Information) Architecture function. We are usually accused of 2 things, being in an ivory tower and always wanting new tools. What we actually try to do is address business pain points, by looking at the services we offer, and how those services can be delivered to alleviate the business pain point with a minimum product (a practical, reusable artifact set) offering. We don't look at the technology. We look at the people/organisation/process, and put the human understanding of a solution first. The importance of context becomes clear when even after 28 years I get caught out by colleagues dealing with MDM but using terminology that's lost on me. They of course are talking about Mobile Device Management. Oh the joys of acronyms.

  7. Funniest thing I have read in years

  8. Coincidentally, the new Forrester Wave for Data Governance has just come out (co-written by Michele Goetz):

    While it's specifically an analysis of DG tools, it at least points in the direction of the fact that in this space, the tools are only there to support human endeavour. So credit where credit is due.

    While I'm on the subject of tool vendors (and with all respect to FX...!), my normal advice is to NEVER go to the tool vendor to get guidance on why you're deploying, what you're deploying, or how you're going to deploy it. They "eat their own dog food" too much, focus on functionality rather than purpose, and just aren't versed in the real business aspects of getting things done.

    On the other hand, if a product vendor proactively guides you towards working with a delivery partner, then they are definitely worth exploring further.

  9. Some further comments on this topic emerging on a related LinkedIn thread:


    I used "never" advisedly (noting that I've made my career in advisory consulting and professional services, it wouldn't be to unkind to suggest that I'm also got an ulterior motive!)

    In my view, purchasing a software product will (almost) never a panacea end to all your problems - it will be the starting point only. The "80/20" rule applies pretty well - 80% of the effort, cost and general heartache for any successful deployment will relate to "human" elements (organisational, educational, cultural, behavioural, process/procedural) and 20% will be about technology delivery.

    In my 20-plus years of doing this schtick, I've encountered very, very few product vendors (and all-too-few services providers) who take this mindset into a project. In the MDM space, the French business Semarchy are one such business, while in the Data Governance area, Collibra seem to be saying many of the right things (which is reflected in Forrester's Data Governance market analysis). IBM's Information Management division are now getting there, but it's still patchy. After that, it seems to be tools and features all the way...

    If I was to be REALLY cynical (surely not...), then I'd offer that from a project management perspective, it's the human elements that bring almost all the risk, so as someone bidding to implement a solution for a client, the very first thing that you'll want to do is manage your risk by excluding any human factors from your contracted scope. It also means that the "core cost" of a project will appear much lower - which is great if you're trying to get a Business Case past an unsuspecting Executive group, but hopeless when it comes to the reality of getting anything done. Result - project failure.

    (See also my recent discussion paper on Distributed Data Quality for some alarming statistics on how many information management projects fail to meet expectations):

    As an industry, we've collectively bought into this "Emperor's New Clothes" delusion. Clients need to be less naive, vendors need to be more ethical.

    So in summary - if you ever come across anyone who does take a "humans first" approach, treasure them and don't let them go!

  10. Also within this other LinkedIn thread:

  11. Alan,

    One of the smartest guys I know went to a Vendor conference armed with a big banner that read "MDM: noun or verb?". I think that strikes at the heart of what you are saying in your Blog.

    Too often we all get caught up in the noun part of MDM, particularly the tools; we lose sight of the fact that the verb, the doing of MDM is where we get the payoff and where we make a real difference.

    Thanks for your post.


  12. Thanks Michael - I will certainly be making use of that one in future! Glad you enjoyed the post...