Archive for February 29, 2012

Where is my “Homeless” Master Data?

The first question to be asked in any Master Data Management project is: Where is my Master Data? The prevailing assumption seems to be that master data lives in an ERP table called “the Customer Master” or “the Item Master” for example. From here, project stakeholders focus intensely upon making the ERP data complete, aligned and in-sync. These analyses are all valid and important.

But consider the analytical side of MDM: analytical databases provide the ability to aggregate and roll-up similar entities, or concepts. Therefore, reporting systems (OLAP or Business Intelligence systems) need and thrive upon data consolidation concepts – roll-ups, hierarchies, collections of master data which can be used to construct dimensional analysis.

For example, a customer may be a stand-alone business, but more often a place of business is owned by a legal entity. Credit Analysts want to see the total credit being extended to a business, not simply a customer. In manufacturing, the phrase “chain” is common to describe essentially a collection or consolidation of customers. In order to provide intelligent customer chaining, the master data needs to include these kinds of “sibling” relationships.

Some ERP systems do this well, and therefore are able to offer analysts a tightly integrated Business Intelligence experience over the ERP data. But no matter what your ERP system, this approach assumes that the enterprise is under a single ERP; indeed, this is rarely the case. If you are an organization which has grown by mergers and acquisition, you may have dozens of ERP systems in the enterprise, at varying levels of capability. Those that do have BI capabilities often promote a fairly rigid, out-of-the-box solution to hierarchy management, incompatible with other systems.

So what happens? These consolidations become mappings tables in Excel and Access applications and analysts continually scramble to keep their version of this institutional data up to date. These common data assets are essentially “living on the streets” – not inside an ERP system and not inside an MDM solution. And the astonishing thing here is: this data is highly valuable master data. Without it, the enterprise continually struggles achieving simple and reasonable Business Intelligence goals.

It’s this recognition, I believe, which has driven Microsoft in SQL Server 2012 to deliver an Excel 2010 Add-In for Master Data Services. This add-in should help ease the transition for analysts and Information Workers who have taken the homeless data in. Master Data Services provides a full-featured MDM home.

Brian Berry is a Director of Technology Consulting with BlumShapiro, focusing on Microsoft Business Intelligence solutions, with a strong focus on Systems Integration, Master Data Management and PerformancePoint Services. He has been helping companies optimize their investments in Microsoft technology for over 12 years.

Key Improvements to Master Data Services are on the way

SQL Server 2012 – formerly known as “Denali” – will be available March 7, 2012. My colleagues at Blum Shapiro have been participating in private technical sessions with the SQL Server team over the past 6 weeks to learn of the many improvements. Today, I want to share some details on what you can expect with regards to Master Data Services.

Silverlight to the Rescue

We’ve been working with Master Data Services since the release of SQL Server 2008 R2. No question that it is a flexible Master Data Management platform, but those of you who work extensively with the product are aware that the Master Data Portal, the primary way for Data Stewards to interact with the master data, has a very unfriendly user interface. In 2012, the data entry grids are all Silverlight based. This makes for a much improved experience for both filter and CRUD operations.

This is what the Explorer View looks like in the Master Data Portal. Note the improved Record Detail interface to the right.

 

Excel – the Microsoft BI Swiss Army Knife

Microsoft loves to extend the usability of Excel. No surprise then that 2012 includes an Excel Add-In for Master Data Services. Authorized users can insert, edit and delete master data records within Excel. Even better, data administrators can create entities and attributes directly in Excel! This is a huge benefit to MDS model builders who need to quickly get new master data entities created in Master Data Services. Simply select the data you want to import into your model and click Create Entity.

 

The thing that interests me most about the two improvements is that it seems to be highlighting the focus that Microsoft has on Master Data in the hands of Information Workers. For most of my MDM clients, Master Data can be found mostly in Business Systems, not on a file share. I think the question Microsoft is posing here is: are you sure you know where your master data is created? This is a challenging question for many organizations.

These are just two. Next time around we’ll talk about the improved Staging infrastructure.

Brian Berry is a Director of Technology Consulting with BlumShapiro, focusing on Microsoft Business Intelligence solutions, with a strong focus on Systems Integration, Master Data Management and PerformancePoint Services. He has been helping companies optimize their investments in Microsoft technology for over 12 years.