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.