One of the bits that happens around MDM is that people talk about a “single customer view” that everyone in the business will use. My colleague Simon Gratton today made a great, and often over looked point.

Whose view?

You see the point is that when people talk about this they are normally envisaging a very data warehouse centric “data landfill” approach to information. I’ve said before why this isn’t a good approach but suffice to say its not a smart strategy when you are talking about operations.

Lets think on this for a moment. You are a utility company what do you know about the customer? Well you know

  • Their name and core details
  • Their addresses
  • Their entire billing history
  • Their entire customer contact history
  • The history of every transaction on every service they have ever had
  • Other people who have similar profiles
  • Other people who have similar consumption histories
  • The regulator rules that apply to this customer
  • Their current and previous payment details and history
  • The history of every credit risk report you’ve ever done with them
  • etc,etc,etc

So in other words you know a lot and at some stage and at some point this information might be used. But presenting that as a single view? Imagine some poor call centre agent who is answering a call around a boiler problem and being presented with all of the information above. Imagine the billing system that just wants to print out the bill. Do all these systems, people and processes have to cope with knowing all of the information about that customer?

Of course not. So what is this mythical single customer view? The answer is in fact that its actually a classic case of an IT solution missing the point of the business question.

What the single view means is simple

Supplying the right information at the right time and ensuring consistency across the information value chain

So it means that it must be possible to get any piece of information about a customer if required rather than forcing all that information via a single blob. So in a world of REST, SOA and MDM this is actually about providing the mechanisms to link information across the enterprise in a trusted and high quality manner.

The single view means consistency information no matter who is viewing. The traditional IT approach is to view this as a data warehouse challenge and thus create huge landfills of data with massive challenges around timeliness and control. The MDM and SOA approach is to provide control on the core and the mechanism to access the rest to provide the right view on the federated customer information in the most accurate and assured manner.

There is no “single” view because there is no “single” perspective or even “single” definition of what a customer is (ask Marketing and Billing to agree) so the real challenge is about providing an infostructure which enables access to all that information without requiring that it all be dumped in a single database.

Even at the simple schema level you can’t get a complete definition that makes sense as a single view. Marketing view a prospect with all their relationships as a customer, billing just wants the customer and their address. The perspective counts, but so does consistency, the real challenge is making sure that that marketing view can be tied to the billing view, and its that which MDM does.

MDM provides the keys to solving the challenge but it should never be used alone to provide a single dumping group of data.