Serving Many Masters
Customer data and business data must be controlled through master data management.
For the rest of the May 2008 issue of CRM magazine please click here

Part 3 of a four-part series.
Click here for Part 1, and here for Part 2.

CRM is a subspecies of master data management (MDM). You can't have much confidence in customer data if it hasn't been cleansed, consolidated, and controlled in your company's official recordkeeping system.

Customer data is almost never used in isolation from other business records. Rather, customer information is often linked, commingled, and cross-referenced to many other types of business data, such as product profiles, account and billing information, and supply chain and inventory data. This raises the real possibility that data quality (DQ) problems in other data sets will essentially contaminate your official customer records by association, muddying the single version of truth that you rely on for CRM.

Consequently, most enterprises that embark upon an MDM project for customer data integration (CDI) soon realize they must extend their deployments across other types of official business data. This best practice goes by several names, including multidomain, multi-entity, multicatalogue, and multi-application MDM. However it's labeled, the process involves applying a consistent set of DQ and other governance workflows, roles, policies, controls, and tools across all master data sets. This approach ensures that applications are being continuously served by master records across all key business entities.

But a word of caution: Many commercial MDM offerings have traditionally been geared to CDI, which remains the predominant real-world application of this technology. In other words, most MDM solutions were designed initially for managing customer data, and either lack the ability to be applied to other, non-customer data sets or cannot be easily extended for those applications without extensive customization.

Rest assured, though, that more vendors now offer flexible support for multi-application MDM in their product sets. Among the larger MDM vendors, IBM, Oracle, Teradata, Tibco, and SAP are particularly noteworthy in this regard, while pure-play MDM solution providers such as Kalido, Initiate Systems, and Siperian have made great progress down this road.

How can you determine the extent to which a given vendor supports your full requirements for multi-application MDM? Vendors often use different terms that are essentially synonymous, so you'll have to ask what specific logical data models, domain models, solution accelerators, or solution templates they offer. Also ask whether they provide prebuilt (but extensible) data definitions, data cleansing rules, and data stewardship roles and workflows for managing various master data sets (e.g., customers, products, and financials).

Just as important, determine whether the vendor -- in conjunction with its professional services personnel and partners -- offers prebuilt logical data models that have been adapted for your particular vertical industry, incorporating best practices and data definitions tailored to your company's specific needs. If you're in the insurance industry, for example, you want to make sure the vendor offers prebuilt data definitions for agents, brokers, claims adjusters, and other key internal and external parties involved in your business operations.

One absolute truism in multi-application MDM is that no data domain is an island, and no CRM/CDI/MDM environment can or should remain a silo for long. So it's important to evaluate whether an MDM vendor offers flexible relationship management tools. These allow you to link, extend, and tweak cross-referenced relationship definitions across diverse data entities, such as customers, products, suppliers, and locations.

Where multi-application MDM is concerned, you will need total flexibility to manage changing cross-domain data relationships. These will need to evolve -- sometimes changing day-to-day -- to keep pace with your organization's dynamic business model.

Click here for the final part of this four-part series.

James Kobielus (jkobielus.blogspot.com) is a senior analyst at Forrester Research. You can email him at jkobielus@forrester.com.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationCRM.com/subscribe/.
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