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Why You Still Need to Master your Data before Mastering your Business (Intelligence)

On www.ebizq.net a few days ago, the question was posed “Why is a Single Version of the Truth Still Difficult to Achieve With BI?” I provided a quick response there but felt that it’s a topic worthy of expanded discussion.

As I wrote in my comment, a single version of the truth by definition means that there's a single representation of critical master data such as customers, products, assets, and more that's unique, complete, and consistent, and becomes the most reliable and authoritative information for the entire enterprise.

Business Intelligence as a technology or market is specialized to report on existing data from multiple systems without prejudice. It may do some aggregation or rollup for dimensional analysis but it is not designed or equipped to create a single version of the truth. The inconsistency in customer or product dimensions from siloed applications can make any BI analytics running on data warehouses or operational data unreliable. It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog and to those familiar with MDM that MDM is needed to recognize (disparate data), resolve (into a single version of the truth), and relate (them to derive some meaning). In fact, many MDM projects have been kicked off for the initial goal to have BI reporting to more accurately reflect the true nature of the business.

Brian Gentile, CEO of Jaspersoft made another interesting comment by saying “Even within classical BI systems, more than one version of the truth can persist.” He reasons that OLAP systems that require OLAP cubes exacerbate the problem by holding yet more copies.  In an MDM system this could be avoided as a matter of process by always using the latest dimensions fed from the MDM Hub. In effect, the OLAP system or data warehouse should be considered a downstream sync which needs to be updated by the integration capabilities of the MDM platform.

Regardless, I think the question posed was an excellent one because it reminds us that many companies out there are still starting to learn about MDM. Those of us who have been living and breathing MDM for the last 5 years or more take it for granted that MDM should be a precursor for many downstream benefits such as more accurate BI. It goes to show that plenty of continued education and support is needed by all of us to help organizations learn about and realize the benefits of MDM. Hence this blog :-)

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One Response to Why You Still Need to Master your Data before Mastering your Business (Intelligence)

  1. Jesse Heap says:

    Hey Ravi,
    I’m going to cross-post my comment from ebizq because I think it’s relevant to the conversation:
    Perhaps we need to revisit what we mean by “single version of truth”
    It’s important to realize that in some businesses a single version of truth for some master data elements may not be completely achievable. There are sometimes real business reasons to keep multiple views of a master data element. In the pharma industry it may be necessary to create a unique view of a customer from a contracting perspective that may not align with the view of the customer that field reps see.
    As you are defining your master data elements, it’s important that you choose a master data solution that has flexibility to support multiple master data views if there is a valid business need.
    In the end it may not be about a “single version of truth” but rather having a set of controlled processes and technologies that allow you to maintain, track, resolve, govern and relate multiple views in the appropriate context for your business.

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