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Oracle users prepare for MDM

Master data management (MDM) systems, including Oracle's, are becoming more mature. A speaker at Collaborate offered 10 best practices for implementing MDM.

For the last 15 years, Tektronix Inc., a Beaverton, Ore.-based testing equipment manufacturer, has been running a Master Data Management (MDM) program for its customer data on heavily customized Oracle software.

"We had to customize it; CRM was useless," said Lois Hughes, senior manager of business application systems.

That may be changing with the release of Oracle's Customer Data Hub (CDH) and E-Business Suite 12.

"We think the software has finally caught up," Hughes said. "Oracle has finally got the message."

Yet, as Tektronix has discovered during its long-standing MDM initiative, success depends on far more than just the technology. That was a central message at a session at the recent Collaborate conference.

"One of the things that's happening is [that] people think it's all about the technology -- the silver bullet approach, I like to call it," said Dan Power, founder of Hingham, Mass.-based Hub Solutions Designs Inc. "It works for killing werewolves but not for the technology space."

MDM evolved from customer data integration (CDI) and has led to confusion in the marketplace as vendors have been quick to present themselves as the answer for organizations trying to get a grip on their corporate data.

"Just about every enterprise software vendor in the world is slapping MDM on their product marketing," Power said. "It's really not a single product."

Among the vendors offering MDM technology are IBM; SAP, with its NetWeaver MDM and new MDM capabilities added by its recentBusiness Objects acquisition; Siperian, which specializes in pharmaceuticals and life sciences; Initiate, which specializes in healthcare and counts Microsoft among its MDM customers; and Power's former employer Dun & Bradstreet, which filled out its offering by acquiring Purisma.

Oracle has not one but two MDM products -- its own Customer Data Hub and the Universal Customer Master that came with its Siebel acquisition. Customers running Oracle's E-Business Suite already have the underlying architecture of the CDH, Power said.

"Most people have this, but they use it in such a minimalist way, they don't know it," he said.

The five essential elements of MDM

At the core is the data hub, which is built in one of three styles: a persistent hub, which stores all of the critical data from each source system in one place; a registry-style hub, which stores only the directory information and the foreign keys; and the hybrid, a mixture of both.

In addition, every MDM initiative relies on some form of middleware to synchronize the data going in and out of the hub.

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"Not synchronizing your data quality improvements back into your source systems can defeat the whole purpose of the program," Power said.

That, of course, demands a data quality initiative, which could mean using a homegrown tool or buying packaged software.

MDM also depends on external data sources.

"You probably have D&B or something like it in your data warehouse," Power said. "But if you're building a central repository, don't just leave it there."

Finally, and perhaps most important, an MDM initiative demands a data governance program. The business side of the organization is not going to accept an MDM initiative unless they're driving the project, and the way they drive the project is through data governance, Power said.

"Bringing together all these different technology elements and designs is hard enough without a data governance organization," he said. "However you arrange this, think about it from the beginning. I would say don't go back to your business and launch an MDM initiative; launch a data governance initiative."

Ten MDM best practices

  1. Secure active involvement and executive sponsorship.

    "This can only be driven from the top down," Power said. "Bottom-up projects tend to run out of steam and don't work. You may not need to have [executive sponsors] at every meeting, but you do need them in your corner when the going gets tough."

  2. Business has to own the data, data governance and MDM. It does not work when IT is pushing it.

    If the business side doesn't want to own it, have them own the data governance side and IT own the technology component. One technique Power advised is tying compensation or bonuses to the project.

  3. Be prepared for the skeptics.

    "There are anti-champions," Power warned. "These opponents kick up a lot of angst. If you're prepared, then when those champions of the status quo start to throw stones, they won't be able to do any harm."

  4. Take a holistic approach. What matters is the end result, Power said. Tie financial and time investments to the end result.

    "Harley Davidson tied $70 million in increased revenue and decreased cost to MDM," he said. "I don't think [that project] has any problem getting funding. It's intangible and fuzzy enough that if you don't publish it, people don't believe it."

  5. Be ongoing and repeatable.

    "A lot of people still treat this as a project that goes live and is done," Power said. "It's not like that. You're going to be creating and updating data as long as you're in business. From the beginning, plan for a way of life and not a project."

  6. Dedicate a team of data stewards.

    At Tektronix, the data stewards have been involved from the beginning and are closely monitored. Data management is part of their annual review process.

    "We have data managers and they own and are responsible for it," said Tektronix's Hughes. "Plus they have me, Mother Oracle. They hear from me sometimes nicely and sometimes not so nicely."

  7. Create a data model.

  8. Resist the urge to customize.

    "It's getting easier because these hubs are getting more mature," Power said. "If you do [customize], do it carefully. Make sure they're documented and easily upgradeable. Sometimes it's easier to push the vendor to improve further releases."

  9. Plan for at least one upgrade during the implementation.

    "There's nothing worse than contacting support and hearing this problem is fixed in the next release but you can't apply it for months or years," Power said.

  10. Test.

    "[In] real estate, it's all about location -- in software it's about testing," Power said. "Vendors are getting better at testing and QA, but the burden is on you and your testing team."

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