Back when I was leading some of the SOA efforts at Capgemini there was a regular challenge, mainly from software vendors, that SOA was a technology thing that you bought “in a box”. So you’d take your existing complex and challenging infrastructure, slap on an SOA box (normally an ESB or BPEL engine) and voila all would be fine.

I used to call this the “lipstick on the pig” approach to IT delivery and without exception it was an approach that failed to deliver result. With MDM (Master Data Management) I see much more of a business maturity these days but there is still a risk that companies will see the nice MDM technologies and make the mistake of thinking that, like SOA, you can get MDM out of a box. There are many reasons why MDM from a box doesn’t work but the first few reasons are key.

Firstly, as John Radcliffe of Gartner said, MDM only succeeds when its driven from a business perspective and provides the business governance of information.

Secondly in any MDM programme the majority of the technical challenge is not in the core MDM package but in the integration of MDM into the enterprise, and no two enterprises have the same IT

Thirdly focusing on the technology is exactly what causes most MDM programmes to fail.

Lets be clear, the technology part of MDM is not the most complex part of an MDM programme, its not even the most complex technology part. Delivering an MDM solution requires you to understand the business governance of information in your organisation and institute the business change required to deliver that. MDM requires you to build potentially complex integrations and data migrations and, ever more commonly, integrate MDM within core operational processes.

Having accelerators for MDM which speed up the technical parts of these pieces is great and good, which is why we do that here at Capgemini, but considering MDM to be something you buy in a box is as misguided now as it was when SOA vendors and other Systems Integrators made the claim all those years ago.

So how do you make MDM move faster? Firstly of course you need clarity on the business challenge you are solving but that aside it is possible to consider approaches such as MDM BPO which can provide you with the operational engine to accelerate your MDM efforts, and clearly link them to your business metrics and challenges.

Secondly you can consider focusing on the business governance to ensure that any implemented solution come from a position of clarity and thus is liable to be simpler and more adopted.

Thirdly you can consider focusing MDM on what MDM is about, namely the Core and Sync of Master information rather than the ODS job of share. This is a technology centric approach but actually one that goes significantly beyond an in a box mentality to consider the real business consumption of information in conjunction with operational SOA and post-transactional analytical approaches.

The point though is that MDM is about solving business problems, normally relatively complex business problems which require you to adopt business change. This means that technology forms a small part of the journey and technology accelerators can help to reduce technology delivery times. Taking a technology centric approach to MDM is like those folks who took a technology centric approach to SOA and found it didn’t deliver the benefits expected.

It is critical to realise that when you buy a technology solution you are not buying MDM in a box you are buying MDM technologies in a box, the bigger challenges are still to be solved.

If someone offers you MDM in a box, ask them how you get your CFO, CMO and CPO into it.