An Education in Managing Data

Master Data ManagementI’ve been at Informatica for nearly four years. Even in that relatively short time, it amazes me how quickly data has become much more strategic to companies. The entire industry is much more sophisticated. And during my time here, I’ve picked up a lot about the “hows” of strategically managing data. In honor of my soon-to-be anniversary—and the many different ways data is helping companies everywhere—I wanted to share what I’ve learned through my experiences as a member of the Informatica Master Data Management team.

Before Informatica, I spent 15 years in marketing at a data warehousing company. We focused on helping customers bring all of their data together so that they could do cool, innovative analytics, make new predictions through advanced algorithms, and do things that hadn’t been done with data before—like push out personalized offers in real time based on clickstream activity—all with a data warehouse. Many customers conversations started with why you should centralize all of your data from across the company.

We talked about the “what” of data – and not the “how.” That’s why, to be honest, I didn’t really understand a lot about master data management at first. I knew what it was. We had an MDM offer, but I thought of it as something IT had responsibility for. My attention was on the customer insights, business outcomes, and quantified benefits that data delivers. Informatica turned into an education in the discipline of managing data. Here are some of the highlights.

Insight 1: Master data matters

I didn’t always understand the concept of master data. At the beginning, I couldn’t clearly explain how it was different from reference data. Now I can. Why does master data matter so much?

Master data, when managed and reconciled, creates the “golden record” or “master record” that’s core to business success. It’s the essential information that your business or organization runs on. It’s what you need to know about a person, location, product, supplier – or that “thing” that is most important to your business. Reference data is similar to the words in a dictionary in that it’s slowly changing and widely accepted data about a person, location, product, supplier – or that business-critical “thing.” It’s a subset of master data. Latitude and longitude are reference data points. Airlines have three-letter airport codes – that’s reference data. Healthcare codes, such as ICD-10, used between organizations to understand the care provided (a “thing”) is reference data. Reference data is great data to master in the cloud.

Here’s an example of the type of problem master data solves you might be familiar with. I’ve had several phones over the years and had various address books in them. I have my Outlook at work that has an address book. I have my home computer that has an address book. I’ve got an iPad, and then I have a handwritten address book I haven’t looked at in years. When I try to look up someone – like my sister – she’s listed three different times; each listing has a different address and four different phone numbers.

Which is the right one where I know I’ll reach her? It’s my sister, so I know; but what about that company that has hundreds of thousands or millions of customers? Master data management solves the problem of multiple records that exist in many different places about the same thing; often with incomplete, inconsistent, and conflicting information. Reference data, in this example, would ensure that the area code, zip code, and state abbreviation are accurate.

Insight 2: Data governance is critical

Our customers are amazing, and the people who understand master data management are passionate about it. They’re not only from IT, they also come from the business; and they understand what it can do and how it can help their company realize their goals. They see the pervasiveness, persistence, and importance of data and make it a priority to get it right. Listening to them, I came to realize that managing data strategically is something everyone should care about.

Because master data is both a business process and a technology, data governance is essential to MDM. In the past four years, I’ve seen governance become elevated in many companies because the quality of a company’s data has become a determining success factor for a variety of strategic initiatives.

Data quality (DQ) is also tightly coupled with MDM. While both DQ and MDM address problems with the quality of data, I’ve learned that data quality solutions solve the problems of data within an app. It provides visibility into how complete application data is. And it can also ensure that things like dates are consistent across the system. For instance, if you have US, US of A and USA as the country, what will you miss if you search for customers in the US? Data quality fixes that problem. You can think of MDM as fixing broad data issues across systems, while data quality is usually focused on fixing data issues within a system. You can read more about it in this article I wrote for CMSWire.

Insight 3: Mastering data in big data

As I look to what is emerging, I see more companies needing to get a handle on big data. A big value of MDM is identifying relationships and mastering big data within data lakes. Once you have the master profile, how do you link that to shorter-term data like transactions and interactions? (I’ve written about this challenge in my previous blog post, The Three Dimensions of a 360 Customer View.)

One of our customers looks at web activity and then links that to their customer profiles. They manage lead generation from web activity with Informatica Relate 360 to link all those transactions together in a data lake. This company is able to build customer journeys based on their understanding of marketing offers and behavior that converts.

Another of our customers looks at web forms completed to answer this simple question: Do we know you, and how? The answers come in four ways: a new lead, an existing lead that never converted, a current customer, and a lead that used to be a customer but isn’t now. How they respond to that form fill with a marketing offer is dependent on the answer to that question.

Insight #4: Machine learning and AI

Where is MDM headed next? I think the answer involves using machine learning and AI to increase speed and agility. While we’re working to simplify MDM implementations with our 360 applications which have shortened the timeframe to two months or less, applying AI can really disrupt the status quo. This video goes into the benefits of AI-powered MDM.

MDM already automates so much of data management – the matching, merging, and reconciliation of data to create a golden record. But there’s still human intervention required to set it up. Machine learning can be trained to apply those decisions on an automated basis to accelerate records management. Also, as you add new data sources, data catalogs can help MDM become more agile by understanding which ones are more important and complete.

Insight #5: Mastered data is trusted data

Trust in data is important. And at the end of the day, it’s about trusting the data you use to do the things you need to do. At Informatica we have a trust framework that looks at certain elements of the data, addressing questions like: What type of data is it? How old is it? Where did it come from? Going back to my address book example, I know that some of those data sources are spreadsheets of addresses and phone numbers (exported from an older Outlook address book). That paper-based address book? I’m sure many pages are filled with the wrong addresses and phone numbers by now.

But if I could sum up anything about MDM that makes me excited about its future, it would be the commitment of the people who are involved in it. I really feel like I’ve found my crowd. The people here are passionate about data. After all, our company values are the acronym “We DATA”. (But that’s for another blog.)

If you want to get a sense of how visionary data leaders are taking their passion for data and transforming their companies and customer relationships, check out our eBook, Intelligent Disruptors: Meet the Experts Behind Customer 360 Initiatives.”