I had the opportunity to join an invitee-only editorial round table discussion at the MDM & Data Governance Summit in New York City, and listening to my distinguished co-panelists and other presenters at the conference, one thing was clear: Master data management (MDM) is now past the “hype cycle,” and data governance (DG) and reference data management (RDM) are following closely behind.
The MDM & Data Governance Summit is a premier industry event that brings together analysts, aspirants, practitioners, and vendors in MDM, RDM, and DG across industries and technologies. It’s a great opportunity to see what vendors are up to and to hear from organizations on their experiences with implementing these difficult disciplines.
At the summit this year, the vendors were a mix of the old and the new. Notably missing was a dominating presence of the leading MDM software vendors and implementation partners, such as IBM, Informatica, TCS, and Cognizant. If there was a booth exhibited (such as with Cognizant and IBM), the presence was subdued. Mind you, that does not equate to any diminished market presence. By and large, the large software vendors and implementation partners are doing just fine. In fact, I suspect that is precisely the reason for their lackluster presence. Everyone knows about them now, so why bother with booths?
There were also many of the usual suspects: Dell Boomi, which offers innovation in cloud MDM (and has always appeared to me as a bit of a sleeper with great potential); Magnitude Software, which is the next step in the evolution of erstwhile MDM leader Kalido; and Stibo Systems, which boasts an ancient (in technology terms) European lineage. There were some relatively new entrants and innovators, such as Profisee, which has built an MDM solution on top of the Microsoft master data stack, and Reltio, a fast-rising entrant that is leading in new-generation, social-data-aware MDM. Lastly, there seemed to be a distinct uptick in DG and RDM offerings in terms of both capabilities and maturity. Established market leaders like Collibra and Orchestra Networks were joined by interesting competitors such as Global IDs and Semarchy. Notably missing was Ataccama, which has an impressive array MDM and DG tools. There were also some interesting niche solutions like location services from GBG Loqate and a graph database from Neo4j. Location awareness is looming large in areas such as healthcare, and graph theory — which I last encountered in graduate school — is facing resurgence.
The challenge with tooling for DG is that it is inherently difficult to define, scope, and implement. The path from a nebulous vision to an actionable plan is unclear and dependent on amorphous factors such as organizational culture, visionary leadership (or the lack thereof) in information management, and the enterprise data architecture landscape. I had the following to say in an article four years ago: “…if you’re looking to implement a data governance program, stop looking for a single, comprehensive solution. It doesn’t exist.” That is still the case. DG and RDM have come a way since 2012, but two fundamental factors haven’t changed much: DG still has more political alignment than technology integration; and RDM still struggles to find respectability in the form of IT budgets.
But this is good news, and here’s why.
Presenter after presenter at the conference — industry practitioners, not vendors — spoke of the success they have had with implementing MDM, and the emerging opportunities presented by formalized DG and RDM. They were also refreshingly candid in presenting the challenges in implementing these disciplines, but to paraphrase management guru Peter Drucker (“you can’t manage what you can’t measure”), you can’t address what you can’t identify. What I heard from the speakers (and from my fellow panelists) was evidence of a great deal of success in deriving real and tangible (albeit not easily quantifiable) business value from methodical, technology-driven information management and governance. Even the challenges they listed were indicative of a maturity in understanding the fundamentals of information management and a serious commitment to overcoming the challenges.
Of the three disciplines (MDM, RDM, and DG), I believe that MDM is now almost firmly established in enterprise information architectures with reasonable (and growing) budgetary support. I say “almost” because there is still plenty of growth potential, not just in terms of market presence but product evolution. Managing master data is an inherently limited endeavor — there are only so many entities you need to “manage” — but MDM is and will remain a foundational component of a mature enterprise information management portfolio for the foreseeable future.
RDM does not quite have the glamor of MDM in the world of data geeks, but data-savvy business managers and executives are only too keenly aware of the havoc routinely caused by poorly managed enterprise taxonomies and hierarchies, and they are desperate to corral these pesky pieces of data.
DG is now an established term in the executive lexicon. Executives have come to realize the importance of governing the data more effectively, although they may not quite know how to go about it. The maturity of tools on display at the MDM & Data Governance Summit and the experiences of some of the speakers clearly indicate that technology-enabled DG is, if not a tsunami, then an incoming wave of sorts.
Gartner, Inc. has a very nice model of technology maturity called the “Gartner Hype Cycle.” If I were to apply it to MDM, RDM, and DG, the figure below demonstrates how I would see it (the orange buttons are my additions).
To anyone who comes to me asking whether there is a career in information management, my answer is a resounding “Yes.” As companies discover (to their chagrin) that the deluge of data is not quite leading to a deluge of actionable insight, their need to invest in methodical data management will only grow. It’s a good space in which to be.
Rajan Chandras is director data architecture and strategy at a leading academic medical center in the northeast. He is a prolific contributor to well-known industry publications and has presented at industry and research conferences. He writes for himself and not for or on behalf of his employer. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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