Define Master Data to Deliver Business Results

March 10, 2017

Contributor: Laurence Goasduff

Defining master data is a mandatory first step in any master data management strategy.

Master data sits at the center of all core business processes and applications. Your organization cannot effectively or efficiently execute many business and IT initiatives without creating a trusted, enterprise-centric view of master data.

Michael Moran, research director at Gartner, examines what constitutes master data, and how IT leaders can overcome the key business and IT barriers to creating the critical trusted view of it.

Master data describes what an organization does, and it is defined differently across businesses. The challenge of creating a common set of attributes for customers, products and suppliers on which the organization can agree has existed for decades. "It is the responsibility of chief information officers (CIOs) or chief data officers (CDOs) to clearly define what master data is and which parts of it will be most impactful to the business," says Mr. Moran.

Organizations must embark on the discipline and practice of master data management (MDM) to achieve a "trusted view" of master data as a reusable asset. But before this, the organization has to agree on which master data objects are the highest priority to address. "Defining master data is not an easy task, because each user/stakeholder will require different 'views' of it," adds Mr. Moran. "The definition of master data needs to take into account the business or mission context in which the master data itself is used."

Contextualize Master Data

CIOs or CDOs need to use definitional techniques to effectively contextualize master data as a critical element of both their business value chains and MDM programs. "They need to be flexible in how they manage their definitions, as what constitutes master data will likely change as their business changes," says Mr. Moran. They need to work with all stakeholders to reduce their organization's most significant entities — the master data objects — to their essence. The resulting master data is consistent and uniform, rarely changes, and includes identifiers, attributes and observable values.

Engaging With the Business to Define Master Data in Business Terms

Master data is used in many processes and applications, even if the context changes for each. As the degree of reuse increases, so too does the value from centralized governance efforts. IT has a system-level view of what data is; business users have a different view. However, master data is not meant to be driven by how IT sees data in a table, but rather by terms the business uses to describe what it is and what it is used for.

From this starting point, IT can relate the business-level view to the actual data in the systems. Making the case for MDM requires bringing the business process owners together to agree on what constitutes master data, and how it will be defined in a way that supports the distinct ways each business unit or stakeholder views that information.

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