Many South African businesses are striving towards a single view of the truth across the enterprise, but find their efforts frustrated by a lack of uniform data across the many applications and systems that they run.
This is according to Ryan Jamieson, chief technology officer at iSPartners.
Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for the lack of consistent data is the fact that the different systems are not talking about the exact same things when referring to a customer, a product or financial structure. These entities might be defined in as many different ways as the business has business systems.
For example, the customer relationship management, debtors, logistics and billing systems may all use different attributes and conventions to define a "customer".
One could use the initials and surname of the customer, his or her address and telephone number, while another may list a title, a first name, surname and a cellphone number.
That is where the discipline of master data management (MDM) has an important role to play. Although it’s not a new field, MDM is assuming growing importance in a market where businesses are becoming increasingly aware of the link between consistent data and business performance.
MDM is all about consolidating and maintaining a clean, complete and accurate set of master data that serves as the golden record for the entire organisation.
The MDM solution distributes the authoritative master data to all operational and analytical applications.
As a result, all the systems will be referring to the same thing when they refer to a product, a customer, an organisational structure or a financial entity.
That means that users can be sure, for example, how many active customers they have, not counting Mr R Jamieson and Ryan Jamieson as different customers, that financials across operating companies are reported in a consistent manner and that the product catalogue data is clean.
This level of consistent information about products, locations, people, and financial categorisation will help users to avoid making the incorrect business decisions because they are working off inconsistent data.
In the case of customer data, it can also translate into a better understanding of each customer and better service levels.
It is important to note that MDM isn’t a single technology, but an approach to maintaining a clean and consistent of data that all systems across the enterprise can draw from. The biggest challenge in an MDM rollout isn’t usually the technology, but rather the cultural and change management issues.
Defining a customer or a product can be an unexpectedly complex and political process in many organisations. Securing user buy-in and management sponsorship for an MDM project is critical to its success. MDM needs to be rolled out in an incremental fashion to limit risk.
But once companies have a sound MDM process in place, they will start to see an immediate impact on the performance of their business as a result of managers making better decisions based on accurate and consistent information.