Thriving On Data #5 – Data Apart Together

To succeed digitally means being able to leverage information across disparate organizational units in a consistent way. In this definitely federated world of information, it is the strength of the links between services that determines how genuinely digital an organization is. Governing these core pieces of master data helps the business remain in control in a more and more distributed, loosely networked  context. New tools and technologies can help keep this master data managed, but it’s the business governance of information as a corporate asset that really creates the unified view of organizations that are working apart together.
In 196 BC, King Ptolemy V made a decree at Mephis. At the time Ptolemy ruled a large empire that had multiple languages and spanned what is today many different countries in the north and south of the eastern Mediterranean. The decree was inscribed on a stone in three languages – Ancient Greek, Demotic and in Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. It was the discovery of this stone, now called the Rosetta Stone, in the 19th century that eventually led to the understanding of hieroglyphics.

So how does this story relate to modern business?  The answer is that it was through the ability to translate between different languages, or in the business context different organizational definitions, that enables multiple parties to collaborate and be understood.
With information now coming from more and more sources and ever increasingly those sources being external to an organization, the need to create the Rosetta Stone for information moves from important to critical in determining the ability of an organization to successfully leverage the value from information. This is not a technical exercise but one of business governance and is at the heart of information as a corporate asset. Between data sets there are core pieces of information about which an organization wants to perform analytics: this could be to identify customers between internal systems and their activities on social media, to see how government open data around demographic information can inform a sales forecast, or seeing how procurement can better optimize purchasing by understanding which products between suppliers can be substituted.
These key pieces of information are the master data: customers, suppliers, products, locations, channels and more. They are the pieces of stability in a more than often distributed or even fragmented information landscape around which the events, transactions and notifications flow. To understand the volume of information it’s essential to have accuracy on these core pieces of data, a small percentage of the volume but the difference between having reliable and unreliable analytics.

This is not about having a complete, single source of the truth view of the information about – for instance – a customer and governing every attribute. Yes, central IT may desire to drive single solutions around data – through Enterprise Data Warehouses and the single canonical form – but the business often has a culture of heterogeneity and likes local solutions for information (see also our Business Data Lake vision). And no, this is simply about being able to uniquely identify a customer across all channels, even if they are far away from each other and not aligned in any other way.
Master data therefore is about turning database records into a reliable view of the real world so when an individual walks into a bank you know all their accounts and all their interactions. It’s about knowing that the two suppliers make products with the same specifications and tolerances that you require, so you can negotiate better prices. Master data management is about where it delivers value and where it enables business collaboration around information. The job of technology is simply to industrialize and automate the processes that are established and help the business to deliver the islands of stability that make federated information work. And when properly combined with ‘Process On The Fly’ and Cloud technologies, it will bring organizations to the next level of agility as well. 
When dealing between companies, there have always been contracts that lay out the terms and conditions of a relationship. Master data does the same for an organization in its dealings both internally and with partners: it is the contract that enables the collaboration to be done in a secure and reliable manner. No group of companies would embark on a major joint investment project without doing the legal and financial due diligence. As information becomes ever more the foundation of value in such relationships, it becomes essential that organizations – federated and only loosely aligned as they often are – make the same investment in rigor around information.

This contribution by Steve Jones  

Part of Capgemini’s TechnoVision 2014 update series. See the overview here.