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Is Your MDM Software Serving You Well?

by Charles Greenberg, www.datafoundations.comMonday, October 4, 2010

Over the past few years, Master Data Management (MDM) has become an established discipline, and as a result there clearly exists a substantive MDM installed base.  While many organizations have grown their business operations thanks to their MDM technology investment, others have simply grown apart from them.  As established vendors and new best of breed vendors begin to roll out "next generation MDM offerings," many end users are re-evaluating their existing efforts to ensure their current solution is capable of meeting their over-arching business requirements and managing different master data domains.   

MDM technology has proven itself to be exceedingly dynamic, and capable of delivering dramatic growth and business innovation much like any other established enterprise software sector. Companies not only have embraced commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) MDM, but have expanded its use by extending functionality beyond traditional Customer and Product domains to include new domains and use cases involving location, corporate hierarchies, and so on.

Consequently, many end-users who pioneered the first round of MDM software implementations feel compelled to take advantage of the newest wave of solutions.  Organizations are reevaluating their current MDM vendors who once seemed avant-garde but now increasingly fail to meet changing business requirements, holding back data management productivity through limitations in their approach.  The inward assessment of internal pain-points, coupled with the increasing awareness of new, competitively priced and feature-rich MDM software, can be a highly persuasive argument for change.  As a result, this issue can generate serious discussions, spur formal due diligence and finally establish a consensus that it’s well time to move away from the incumbent MDM vendor.

However, the clarion call for change is simply not enough to overturn comfortable and familiar relationships with existing providers; which can create a double edge sword.  While change is often an opportunity for improvement, hesitation can plague an organization’s ability to move in the right direction.     

It May Not Be Perfect, But It's Here!

Consider highly flexible Solution A” challenging a not-so-flexible, but incumbent, Solution B.  The CTO may insist business users appreciate the expanded functional scope provided by Solution A,” but other end users may actually resent the new learning requirements for not only new functionality, but also for new ways of performing known tasks in the new software's idiom.  Consequently, new software acquisitions risk pushing organizations out of their perceived comfort zones, as the boundaries of these comfort zones are defined by the incumbent software. 

No Pain, No Gain

While change can often be perceived as painful, the fear that is also associated with it isn’t restricted to business users alone.  CIOs, not always from sturdy, pioneer stock, often share the underlying fear of change, leaving organizations as a whole equally trepidatious when it comes to implementing enterprise solutions.  The fear of taking one big, painful step backward before taking two steps forward is a front-of-mind concern for both CIOs and business users alike. 

Let’s face it; increased flexibility should be a huge asset for a new MDM solution, as highly pliable MDM software has the strong selling point of being non-restrictive and non-proprietary in nature.  Moreover, these solutions tend to be highly configurable enabling business professionals to be self reliant, meaning the IT group will no longer be required to make programming changes on behalf of the actual user.  It’s likely this concept of flexibility will ultimately enable a high degree of enterprise-wide interoperability and data interchange.  After all, flexibility can lead to an expansion of functionality and a variety of approaches to facilitate business use cases, and provide alternative options to completing repetitive tasks.

Ironically, however, where some business users praise highly flexible MDM offerings as empowering and supporting business objectives with a myriad of choices, others perceive that same flexibility as too cumbersome, providing too many choices, too many options, and an unwelcomed steepening of the software's learning curve.  Again, it boils down to fear of change.

In this respect, enterprise software evaluations, in general, are not unlike political elections in government.  Statistically speaking, we favor incumbents because they promise enhancements and more palatably, incremental change, or in software parlance: upgrades. 

How much is a comprehensive MDM software evaluation like an election cycle?  Consider the following:

  1. Familiarity Breeds Contempt - The beginning of a data insurgency; incumbent vulnerable!  New enterprise software vendors are encouraged to begin circling, core project teams gain budgetary assistance and welcomed internal support.

    As with politicians, incumbent software solutions are measured against themselves.  Third party business and IT consultants are more than happy to provide assessment and benchmark studies of an existing enterprise system strategy, often recommending business process reengineering, system replacement or even outsourcing.  Comprehensive surveys of end users can reveal dissatisfaction with interfaces, complaints regarding ease-of-use, less than adequate performance – and yes, even lack of flexibility.  Surely, there has to be something better.
  2. Throw The Bum(s) Out! –Request for Information (RFIs), demos and multiple price quotes. 

    As if that wasn’t enough, be even more concerned if a company hires a consultant to assist in a vendor search and evaluation as the journey can become long and arduous given the omnipresent and exhaustive list of potential candidates.
    Again, enterprise software buy-cycles are not necessarily any more expeditious than U.S. presidential elections cycle.  Consider this typical process of due diligence:
  • Preliminary, unofficial info gathering of possible software candidates
  • Informal meetings and short demos
  • Internal status meeting
  • The issuing of RFIs
  • RFI assessment and creation of the vendor short-list
  • Presentations and demos
  • Discussions and scoring of vendor presentation and demos
  • Additional questions and info request from participating vendors
  • Follow-up discussion and scoring adjustments
  • Decision: “Let’s pick one or two providers and execute a six month Proof of Concept”
  1. The Devil We Know, As Opposed To The Devil We Don't - Alsoknown in IT as "Thank you for your time – but we've decided to just do an upgrade" scenario.

    Sometime’s it’s not so much that the incumbent software seems the best software or solution, as it is that the original momentum to move forward is dissipated by the process itself. 

All Is Not Lost

Ultimately, however, “incumbent inertia” is not a good enough business reason to not replacing a mission critical toolset.  Companies with a real need and with significant pain points will overcome their fear of change and continue to perform proper due diligence.  Despite detours, they will return to the initial justifications that motivated their re-evaluation of their current solution in the first place.

About the Author

Charles Greenberg heads Business Development at Data Foundations, Inc., a leading vendor of master data management and gov­ernance software and solutions. For more information, contact him at cgreenberg@datafoundations.com or visit www.datafoundations.com.

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