Master Data Management/Data Governance summit recap

Bas van Gils
Posted by Bas van Gils on Apr 19, 2013

Enterprise Architecture, Business Process Management

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From April 15-17, IRM UK has hosted the co-located Master Data Management (MDM) + Data Governance (DG) Summit in London, UK. I attended the 16th and 17th and saw many interesting sessions on a wide range of topics. The conference was well attended with a great mix of practitioners, thought leaders, and vendors. Several thought leaders and authors presented their findings, including Jill Dyche, Aaron Zornes, Gwen Thomas, Analise Polsky, Jim Orr, and Sunil Soares. I had the pleasure to meet several of them for some interesting discussions.

In this short blog, I’d like to recap some of the key trends, tips, and lessons learned from the various presentations that I’ve seen:

One thing that came back in several presentations was: have a strategy, know where you are going and keep your eye on the ball. In the expert panel we also briefly discussed “bottom up” governance. The majority claimed that “bottom-up doesn’t work; you need top-down support”. While I understand the line of reasoning, I personally believe in a good mix between top-down and bottom-up.

A recurring theme for many initiatives (ranging from BPM, EA, and also MDM and DG) is: engage people in your initiative. This topic was discussed in various presentations and the picture is clear: people across the enterprise should be engaged and involved. An interesting warning came from Jill Dyche: stop the “let’s get everyone in a room and figure out where we’re going” approach; it’s better to seek opportunities (e.g. in projects) and show value early on. Nothing sells better than success!

Key ingredients for success with MDM and DG were also a recurring theme. In the expert panel we went as far as discuss key tool features to support stewardship in executing their task. We saw some classics here:

Managing your business vocabulary – in a tool – is an important ingredient especially when integrate with other tools such as data models and reporting dashboards. There was a lot of attention for the heroes of data management: the data stewards and data custodians. Analise Polsky’s talk was great in many ways but what I personally liked best was her insight in different models for stewardship. Highly recommended.

Of course there was a lot of tool-talk as well. Luckily this did not dominate the presentations too much. In Sunil Soares’ talk we looked at tools and toolsets in more depth. He shared some great insights from his books, including a reference architecture for big data that ties everything together. However cool these tools may be, there also seemed to be a general consensus that “IT and tooling are no longer the problem”. Indeed, many of the talks stressed the need to align / integrate with business initiatives, necessity of good stewardship and so on. I particularly liked that several presentations mentioned the use of business rules and business processes as a starting point for MDM and DG initiatives / frameworks.

Words matter. We all know that; one can argue that this premise lies at the core of MDM. It is however also true for how we name our DG and MDM initiatives.

Words like “governance” and “single point of truth” may sound dangerous to some people in the organization and scare them off rather than engage them in an important initiative. Picking the right names for initiatives may go a long way in making the project a success.

Even though there were many more interesting discussions, I would like to end with a point that stood out particularly due to my own recent (and on-going) projects: paying attention to all stakeholders and all needs, managing conflicts early on, and setting clear expectations with respect to why, what, who, and when is essential for success. For example, it is often said that ownership is crucial. Indeed, a lot was said about ownership of data and master data, but also consider things like ownership of the MDM/ DG initiative! One of the speakers also warned against a strong push for ownership of Master Data as “that pushed us into a siloed approach in the first place”. Building a stakeholder map, defining roles and setting up accountability (stewardship from business and IT perspective, custodian, sponsor, and so on) will go a long way in engaging people, creating transparency and pushing the initiative forward.

Last but not least: what’s the take away from all this? For me, it is clearer than ever that a holistic approach to solving the true problems of business is needed. Why holistic? Because everything in our organization is connected to everything else! Let’s start with the business challenges and tackle them by teaming up professionals from various disciplines: Data Management (especially MDM and Data Governance), Business Process Management, Business Rule Management, and Enterprise Architecture. And that’s just the start of it!

Paraphrasing Jim Orr: transparency is much needed. In my opinion we should use enterprise-wide models to understand the complexities of our business and look at them from various angles. Use common tools, methods, and build a community to succeed. After all, it’s always about the people.

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