Digital Transformation Begins with Data Management
To truly unleash the power of their data, organizations must first rein it in.
- by Calvin Hennick
- Business and technology journalist | June 20, 2019
Knowledge is power, an old saying goes, but it also can contribute greatly to efficiency.
For example, during a recent consulting engagement, Stewart Bond, research director for data integration and integrity at IDC, worked with a company whose employees often had difficulty locating parts they needed. The company frequently addressed this issue by having its engineers redesign the parts from scratch.
“They didn’t have a single reference set with all of the different parts they used to build a product,” Bond says. “It was easier for an engineer to design a new part than to discover whether they had a part that met their needs.”
This is just one example of what can happen when an organization loses track of its data. And it illustrates why master data management is so important — not only for optimizing existing processes, but also for supporting digital transformation efforts.
The term “master data” refers to the core set of information that is crucial to business operations, which may include records related to products, vendors, employees or (perhaps most importantly) customers. Master data management is the effort to organize these critical records into a central reference point, helping to correct errors, eliminate redundancies and generally make data more relevant and accessible — and, therefore, more valuable to the organization.
Data Management in Action
Bond notes that master data is typically sorted into one of four “domains”: party (including suppliers, employees and customers); product; financial; and location or site. However, he says, much of the recent conversation around data management has centered on “Customer 360” initiatives meant to build a holistic and unified view of customers.
“If you’re a customer-oriented business, people are calling in for service, and they want the company to know who they are,” Bond says. “But because of these silos of information, companies often don’t know all of the different products and services that customers have with them.”
Paige Bartley, a senior analyst on the Data, AI & Analytics team at 451 Research, says pharmaceutical and life sciences companies are increasingly using master data management and related solutions to unify their research and accelerate development efforts. Research portal solutions often leverage elements of data management technology, combining them with advanced search and relationship mapping. “For instance, you can type in a chemical’s name, and it’s going to pull up related chemicals, all of the internal and external research that you have, and all of the people who were involved with that research, to create a single portal for that information,” she says. “It’s almost like a Google on steroids, uniting internal intellectual property with publicly-available information.”
Healthcare is another industry in which master data management is crucial, says Scott Schumacher, distinguished engineer at IBM. Ineffective data management can yield situations such as one Schumacher observed at a hospital that had a 10 percent duplication rate for patient records before implementing data management tools and processes. “Duplicate records increase the chance that clinicians could miss information when treating someone,” he says. After implementing master data management, Schumacher says, most organizations are able to get their duplication rate under 1 percent.
Because digital transformation efforts are typically powered by the intelligent use of data, organizations across industries are increasingly looking to data management solutions to support these initiatives. “Digital transformation starts with the digitization of formerly analog processes, but that’s just step 1,” says Bartley. “Now, you’re generating data about those processes, and the goal of digital transformation is to enable all relevant workers to leverage data to drive business value. The more you can have unified access to data, along with granular controls over who can access that data and when, that’s when you really get into that digital transformation journey. That’s a major milestone.”
Top Data Management Benefits
According to a 2019 survey, organizations globally attribute an average of $124 million in extra revenue to intelligent data management. Additionally, 44 percent of business and IT decision-makers say that more sophisticated data management initiatives will be critical to their organization’s success over the next two years.
Nearly all (99 percent) of survey respondents believe that a more sophisticated approach to data management would have a positive impact on their business. Specifically, significant portions of business and IT leaders say that intelligent data management can help them to achieve the following objectives:
Transform the business model and revenue streams 62%
Transform business operations and processes 55%
Transform customer service 52%
Increase customer responsiveness 47%
Transform employee tasks 43%
Deliver cost savings 43%
Transform ways of communicating 43%
Transform talent recruitment 40%
Transform talent retention 40%
Master Data Management Best Practices
Vendors such as IBM and Informatica make tools for master data management, but these aren’t plug-and-play solutions. Rather, most data management efforts include extended professional services engagements, with vendors helping organizations to locate, identify and properly format their data.
“The best place to start is with data cleansing – going through and spending time understanding what data is relevant,” says Bond. He adds that it’s essential to have leadership buy-in, given the potentially massive scope of a data management effort. “Everybody has got a day job, and it’s tough to get people involved in a special project,” he says. “Also, senior leadership can make sure there are sufficient resources dedicated to the effort.”
Bartley notes that it’s important for organizations to pinpoint their business needs, and to differentiate between valuable master data and relatively unimportant records. “You need to know what your business objectives are before you start looking for any technology,” Bartley says. “Technology never fixes anything for you on its own. When vendors are showing their shiny offerings to an organization, it’s easy to lose track of the business need.”
Schumacher advises companies to use master data management to achieve early, tangible wins that will generate excitement internally – rather than working toward one large, distant payoff. “One of the dangers of master data management is that it can become something that takes too long before anybody sees value,” Schumacher warns. “If someone is trying to create a golden view of 80 different systems, that is going to take time. So, is there a way you integrate just 10 of those systems, and get some return-on-investment earlier? You can’t try to boil the ocean with data management.”
“Keep the scope manageable,” Schumacher says. “You want to make sure that you have a plan to deliver return-on-investment incrementally, so that people can see the advantage of the solution.”