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How Manufacturers Can Avoid MDM Pitfalls and Harness Big Data

Big data is the all the rage and getting tons of press as it has allowed manufacturers and supply chain executives to create new and compelling data-driven strategies that help them compete, innovate and capture wallet-share. Perhaps fueled in part by the likes of leading database vendors or system integrators (SIs) looking to cash in on high-dollar predictive analytic and scoring engagements, big data represents many things to many people, but one of the most pragmatic applications is mastering all the data elements used in a business infrastructure. The term commonly used for this process is master data management, or MDM.

How Manufacturers Can Avoid MDM Pitfalls and Harness Big Data

Master data management continues to gain rapid market adoption, as it comprises a set of processes and tools that consistently define and manage the non-transactional data entities of an organization. According to Bloor Research's annual "Master Data Management Market Update," the market through 2012 and early 2013 showed considerably more growth than last year. Andy Hayler, author of the report, suggests that MDM is getting increased traction among customers, and is moving from a niche area into the mainstream.

Few would be surprised with this market growth as master data is the lifeblood of most enterprises. This is especially true for manufacturers as it is extremely difficult to conduct day-to-day activities without having basic records on customers, products, suppliers, employees, locations, assets and more. Yet across virtually every industry, the volume of operational information is rising exponentially in both size and complexity. The goal of any MDM initiative should be to provide processes for collecting, aggregating, matching, consolidating, quality assuring, and distributing critical data throughout an organization to ensure consistency and control in the ongoing maintenance and application use of this information.

MDM Success Starts by Recognizing the Business Need

For most manufacturing companies, operational information is duplicated and scattered across multiple systems and applications which makes it difficult for decision makers to achieve a unified view of operational intelligence. The disparate information also prevents customers from getting the accurate and timely information they need to make purchasing decisions. In fact, most transactional data is linked in some way to master data. So, missing data, low-quality information and untrustworthy or inaccurate records have a big impact on revenue, productivity, costs, compliance, agility and decision-making. Therefore, managing this master-level information proactively as it flows through the organization is essential to improving business performance. But how does a manufacturer know if they need a MDM solution? A good starting point is to ask if any of the following holds true:

" Business groups manage data within Excel spreadsheets

" Data is in disparate systems

" Company is unable to control brand consistency

" Organization has multiple (potentially inconsistent) versions of the same data

" Data quality is suspect or unreliable

" Classification, identification and reconciliation of data is inconsistent

" Company is going through or planning a merger or acquisition

Considerations for the First Time (MDM) Buyer

For those considering a MDM solution for the first time, the vendor selection process can be daunting. While the concept of MDM is not new, it's a rapidly evolving marketplace that has become crowded with "me too" applications and a blur of sameness when it comes to marketing messages and positioning. There are a handful of vendors that make similar promises and claim comparable feature sets, but when you look under the covers, who offers true customer value and who is merely checking the feature box? When evaluating MDM vendors, manufacturers should conduct due diligence and take time to verify that the vendor under consideration has a team of seasoned experts who can turn data into revenue, regardless of industry or vertical. Start by asking questions such as what is the average tenure of your employees? And what is the earliest deployment your customers have experienced starting from the beginning of the project? More importantly, ask them to list two references and to outline the scope of their project.

Never Underestimate the Importance of the RFP

Let's face it, since you only get the services and capabilities that you ask for, choosing the best vendor upfront starts with developing a well-thought out request for proposal. Understanding the vendor's strategy, product capabilities and long-term vision is critical to any MDM effort and is almost as important as understanding the cost and anticipated roll-out time of the program. To avoid making a master data management mistake, it is critical to draft a detailed RFP that addresses the following four key areas for evaluation:

Product: Does the functionality address my organization's major business challenges and goals we are trying to achieve through MDM? Is it reliable in terms of deliverability? Can it scale with the growing needs of our organization? 

Support and Services: Does the vendor have a sound implementation process that will ensure the solution meets the needs of our organization?Does the vendor's implementation bring together the right teams and technical knowledge? Does the solution provide or offer effective, comprehensive, and ongoing training that will maximize the results of our MDM efforts? Can the vendor provide the levels and quality of support to ensure a close knit, mutually successful relationship? And can the vendor support any international requirements?

Infrastructure and Governance: Are requisite governance controls and certifications in place to prevent security breaches in the system? Does the MDM system proactively establish clear-cut roles, business processes and responsibilities? Does it monitor data quality and ensure compliance to corporate standards? What is the average uptime of the system? Has the vendor made sufficient investments in their back-end infrastructure to sufficiently handle data volume and capacity? Can the vendor's infrastructure scale to our current and future needs?

The Company: Making a MDM project successful takes an investment of time, resources and money. Therefore, vendors should have proven longevity and staying power in tough economic times, the financial resources to continue to grow, scale, and innovate for its customer's benefit, and management who are well-experienced thought-leaders. Which vendor is best positioned to be your partner by your side down the road?

Perform Due Diligence When It Comes to the Product Demo

Everybody loves a good demo and almost no one loves them more than the vendor themselves. But don't forget your day job! Instead of watching a canned demo, ask the vendor to show you how you would manage your data today by providing them with a few relevant use cases. This will provide far more insight into how the product will perform in your specific manufacturing environment. After all, for MDM solutions where the sizzle of a fancy UI can distract buyers from the reality of what it takes to manage high volumes of data from multiple sources, there are a few questions that can help get the most out of your next product demo. Ask the vendor these questions:

1. Can you easily view multimedia/multi-language of product(s) in one screen? Can you view content versions (print, ecommerce, channel-specific) side-by-side?

2. How do you define and manage multiple taxonomies to categorize products and other entities?

3. Demonstrate how to onboard new items, look at the ease of use & configuration capabilities.

But that's not all. It is equally important to ask the vendor if the solution is capable of:

1. Configurable multiproduct views that give users the ability to see differences in product sets with visual indicators?

2. A graphical workflow designer capable of creating workflows? And, when changes to a workflow are required, can I simply drag and drop or is scripting/coding required?

3. Configurable business rules that can be linked to more than one workflow?

Mastering MDM First Hand: The Reference Call

The reference call is a great way to get real-world insight into master data management that you just can't get from a vendor or even a recognized industry analyst. Before making the call, and to ensure a more valuable dialog, it is critical to make sure the customer reference looks and operates like your own organization as it doesn't make sense for a manufacturer with complex data processes to talk to a start-up about MDM. Ask your vendor for a reference that matches your size, industry, complexity and IT infrastructure. To make the most of the reference call, consider asking the following questions:

1. How long has your company been using the MDM solution as time equals experience. If the reference company says less than six months, ask about their thoughts on implementation, training, and initial set-up. If longer, ask which processes have been successfully implemented and whether they have kept up with the latest releases. Has the systems grown over time to tackle additional business problems or been rolled out to other departments?

2. How has the solution helped you address your business challenges? Business users purchase software to solve common problems in the execution and management of data. You want to know if those problems have been addressed, and if not, why not. Is the product being used in the way it was intended? Was there anything you wanted the product to do that it just flat couldn't do or be made to do? How do the end-users describe their day-to-day interactions with the system?

3. How do you measure the business value of this investment and report the results to the management team or board? It's important to understand how the business value of a MDM solution is measured and communicated within the organization so look for business-level metrics like time-to-market and employee productivity.

4. How do you use the solution to import data, enable sales, automate marketing processes and measure results? Businesses invest in a MDM solution when they need to move beyond managing data in Excel sheets or within silos, automate manually intensive processes and/or mitigate risk. Use this opportunity to understand how this investment has augmented these processes.

5. What's the single best thing about the system? What is the worst thing? Time to get down to the basics.

6. Did your implementation meet your needs? Did your team have the training and knowledge required to be successful with the software? Getting off on the right foot matters. It's important to know if the vendor meets the customer's expectations concerning the launch. How was the project management? Integration? Training of the new users? And if the implementation and launch didn't meet the customer's expectations ask what could have been done differently and whether that feedback had been given to the vendor customer's expectations ask what could have been done differently and whether that feedback had been given to the vendor.

7. Last, would you say this vendor served you well and has been a true business partner?

Proactively managing operational information as it flows through the manufacturing supply chain is essential in today's economy. MDM is a key enabler to meeting business objectives and to creating shareholder value; it integrates all operating and multichannel unit divisions and links vendors, product and employee information together into one management platform. However, to get the most out of your master data management investment, and more importantly, to avoid MDM failure, it is essential to take the time to identify and understand a vendor's capabilities and value. After all, master data management success starts with mapping your data management needs with the appropriate partner.

Source: Stibo Systems


Keywords: business intelligence, big data, analytics, data mining, supply chain solutions, supply chain management IT

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