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Is your approach to multidomain master data management upside-down?


ORGANIZATIONS turn to master data management (MDM) to solve many business problems--to reach compliance goals, improve customer service, power more accurate business intelligence, and introduce new products efficiently. In many cases, the need for an MDM implementation is dictated by the business challenge at hand, which knows no single data domain.

Two Approaches to Multidomain MDM: Application and Platform

There are two distinct approaches to multidomain MDM: the first being an MDM application approach, and the second being the MDM platform approach. The MDM application approach comes with a defined data model, business logic or functionality, and specific graphical user interface (GUI), all perfectly suited to solving a single, well-defined business problem. The concept is similar to buying an off-the-shelf sales force automation application for managing the sales pipeline, or a procurement application to manage the purchase of direct or indirect materials for the supply chain. The MDM platform approach, on the other hand, allows organizations to flexibly define their own data model, generate logic and functionality based on this defined model, and provide support to configure the graphical user interface based on the functionality.

Although the application approach and the platform approach can both quickly satisfy the initial needs that drive organizations to embrace MDM, only the platform approach enables companies to evolve and scale their MDM systems to address a wide range of additional business problems. While there are scenarios where it might make sense for a company to pursue a quick-fix MDM implementation to solve some pressing business challenge with a limited scope, when there is any question of scaling that MDM implementation to address future contingencies, the platform approach is unquestionably the best path in order to lower the total cost of ownership and shorten the time to value.

MDM Is Not 'One Size Fits All'

To better understand how these two approaches differ, let's look at a hypothetical business problem. A global pharmaceutical company organizes its business into multiple divisions including a conventional pharmaceutical division, an over-the-counter medicines, biotechnology, and medical devices. The conventional pharmaceutical division, which offers medicines for serious and widespread diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, and bacterial infections, encountered serious problems with compliance reporting because the antiquated systems its sales force used to track activities such as outreach to doctors, hospitals, and pharmacists was plagued with duplicate records. Management and IT decision makers within the conventional pharma division decided to address the problem through an MDM initiative that would result in an integrated physician master. This physician master would cleanse, standardize, and consolidate information from a variety of sources and provide it back to the division's sales force systems. With accurate data on physician outreach, the division would be better able to generate accurate compliance reports in a timely manner. Let's consider how this scenario would play out based on which MDM approach is employed--application or platform.

Upside-Down: In the MDM application approach, the pharmaceutical division would first isolate the business logic for the creation and management of the physician (customer) data in a separate MDM hub. They would then develop the GUI to support the business logic based on the data model dictated by the existing application infrastructure. This is called the "Outside-In" approach, where the division started with a specific problem (compliance reporting on physician outreach) and business logic tied to that problem, then built a GUI to manage the business logic, and (by default in this case) the data model to support it all.

Right-Side Up: In the MDM platform approach, the pharmaceutical division would begin its effort with the data model. Once complete, it would then configure the GUI to manage the master data. Finally, it would build support for assembling business logic on top of the data model that closely resembles the business problem tied to the industry. Called the "Inside-Out" approach, this MDM strategy starts with the data in mind and provides the flexibility to configure the GUI and business logic on top of the data that was previously defined.

The MDM Cul-de-Sac

Let's get back to our hypothetical business problem posed by the conventional pharmaceutical division and the larger company within which it exists. Had it taken the application approach, the division would have met its immediate business objective. But what if a year after going live with this new MDM system, IT decision makers realized that duplications and other errors and discrepancies in supply chain data were beginning to adversely impact its production schedules? This latest business problem would also be an excellent candidate for another MDM initiative. Yet the business logic, GUI, and data model employed for the original MDM project would not be able to address this new problem.

The Far-Sighted Approach

Now imagine that the pharmaceutical division adopted the platform approach to its compliance reporting problem. As we discussed, and similar to the "right-side up" strategy, the first consideration is the data model and the need to build a detailed guide to where structured data is sourced from, how the various systems organize it, which applications draw on it and when, and so forth. Once this critical step is resolved, then the GUI can be configured to manage the data based on the business logic dictated by the business problem. Using this platform-based approach, the pharmaceutical division's MDM system could have easily been expanded to handle any subsequent problems that might arise. Since the MDM platform is flexible, it can be used to create the most versatile multidomain MDM solution, allowing users to start with any domain, not just customer or product.

MDM Done Right-Side Up

One of the great promises of MDM is that it removes the data errors and conflicts inherent to so many enterprises, and ultimately enables redundant data stores and systems to be eliminated. However, implementing MDM using the application approach makes it impossible to realize these benefits. The conventional upside-down/outside-in approach might work for application solutions such as enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, and supply chain management because they solve a single business problem. Multidomain MDM, however, is by nature horizontal (i.e., platform-centric) and doesn't fit the application paradigm. For these reasons, only a multidomain MDM platform can provide the most flexible approach to creating and evolving MDM solutions throughout the enterprise and over time.

Ravi Shankar is senior director, MDM Product Marketing, Informatica. For an expanded version of this article, go to the September E-Edition of DBTA at
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Title Annotation:TRENDS
Author:Shankar, Ravi
Publication:Database Trends & Applications
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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