When starting a master data management (MDM) initiative, there is lot more to it than choosing a technology. MDM projects, by their nature, involve reconciling data and definitions across multiple lines of business (and quite likely different country organizations) so data governance is vital. Establishing a baseline of data definitions and the quality of data is important, as is working out the architecture that is appropriate for your organization (centralised v federated, operational v analytic). Defining a business case for the project is going to be very important not just when convincing management to sponsor the project initially but in demonstrating that real benefits are coming through later. Enterprise-wide MDM projects are large and lengthy, so careful alignment with strategic business initiatives is vital. Then there is the little matter of technology selection and project implementation.
Decisions that you make at the early stages, for example around governance and architecture, are going to have a fundamental effect on the likely success (or otherwise) of your project. It therefore makes sense to bring in some form of advisor who has done plenty of MDM projects before. Unfortunately these are thin on the ground. Although the ideas behind MDM are hardly new, few MDM projects as such were going before 2004, and so there is a limited number of consultancies (including some of the big names) with a practical track record of multiple projects. Every consultancy that you talk to will have a set of Powerpoint slides giving the impression that they know what they are doing (slick slideshows are a core competency of consultants) but a lot less will have very much depth in MDM if you scratch beneath the Powerpoint.
Given this, I was impressed when I spent some time with a niche consultancy called Platon, a 200 strong Danish consultancy firm with an office in the UK. They have invested heavily in gathering the experiences of their information management projects and formulating this best practice into a formal methodology. Of course every systems integrator worth the name has some slides with boxes and arrows pointing to the right, but the depth shown here was of a different order of magnitude. Platon have developed a comprehensive methodology (Platon Insight) covering every aspect of an MDM project, from strategy, through governance, all aspects of the project itself right through to operations. This has been based on successful projects at companies like Thomson Reuters, Canadian Tire Corporation and Danish Oil and Natural Gas. When I poked around through the methodology it was clear that there was real depth here, the methodology having been meticulously adjusted in light of project experience over many years.
When selecting a consulting partner for an MDM project there will be a number of aspects that you will wish to consider, such as the experience of the staff and customer references. However the quality of the methodology being used (not just a generic waterfall project methodology with the letters MDM inserted on the slides) should be an important differentiator. For a start, a well honed methodology means that there is a reduced chance of unnecessary problems coming up, since key decision points are catered for and well documented. So when you do your beauty parade of consultancies, spend some time digging deeply into the methodology they are going to use on your MDM project, and put Platon on your shortlist.
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