MDM Insight Series: Expert Interview With Dan Power of Hub Solution Designs Inc.

Dan Power is one of the world's leading experts on Mastering Master Data Management

Dan Power is one of the world’s leading experts on Mastering Master Data Management

MDM Insight Series: Expert Interview With Dan Power of Hub Solution Designs Inc.

by Dylan Jones

If you’re a regular visitor to Data Quality Pro you may have already read our Beginner’s Guide to MDM. We caught up with Dan Power, one of the leading authorities on MDM and data governance, to present some of the many questions we received from readers of our initial article.

For those of you who don’t know Dan, he is founder and president of Hub Solution Designs Inc., a prolific blogger, social media junkie, and a long time expert panelist on Data Quality Pro and our sister site Data Migration Pro.

Data Quality Pro: What’s your background Dan – how did you gravitate towards being an MDM and data governance expert?

Dan Power: I’ve been involved with master data for a long time. I started my first consulting firm right after college and one of my most interesting projects was writing software to de-duplicate the customer master database of a video distribution business. You could see immediate results when the client saved money by reducing duplicate catalog mailings.

I went on to work for firms like Deloitte & Touche and CSC Consulting, and got involved in implementing Oracle ERP and CRM systems for quite a while. In doing that, I got exposed to the typical master data challenges at big companies.

Then I spent three years at Dun & Bradstreet, just when D&B was starting to get interested in customer data integration and MDM. I was an evangelist there for applying D&B’s huge database of business information to CDI and MDM platforms like Oracle, IBM, Siperian and Initiate. But I started looking forward to getting back into consulting, and so I started Hub Solution Designs Inc., a new firm specializing in MDM and data governance.

Data Quality Pro: How tough is it to develop a career in this sector – what pearls of wisdom can you share for those starting out?

Dan Power: That’s a great question. If you’re going to develop a career in MDM, data governance or data quality, it helps to be really interested in a lot of different things: software & technology, data obviously, business processes, organizational behaviour and corporate culture, how people process and use information.

A good academic background certainly doesn’t hurt, but most of the people I’ve met who are successful in this field didn’t study it in college. A fire in your belly, a passion for helping people to solve business problems with technology and information, an ability to think “outside of the box” – those are all a big help if you’re looking to get into this field.

Start where you are today, and develop skills around improving data quality, quantifying costs, managing defects, stewarding data, championing change in the business, and go from there.

Data Quality Pro: What do you typically cite as the benefits of MDM when asked by the business community in particular?

Dan Power: There seem to be several classic drivers.

First, to increase revenue: can better master data improve marketing & sales results? Lead to better ability to cross-sell and up-sell our customers? Does understanding our customers better help us sell to them better? Does corporate hierarchy information help us penetrate accounts more deeply?

Second, cost savings, and obviously that’s a popular one right now. The biggest gains there are probably from replacing entire systems with a smaller number of more agile, more modern applications. Consolidating 12 ERP systems down to one, and building the new system around a robust MDM and data governance capability, as Nationwide Insurance did, for example.

The third driver tends to be regulatory compliance: anti-terrorism laws, the Basel II regulations in the financial services sector, HIPAA in the health care industry. If someone can’t meet their industry’s regulatory requirements, those fines can add up pretty quickly, and avoiding them can provide a part of your business case.

Data Quality Pro: In your experience, who is generally more receptive to MDM – the business or IT side of the organisation? Why is that?

Dan Power: It varies all over the map. Sometimes, the business comes forward and says “we’ve got to have the single view of the customer”. Sometimes, IT sees it as a way to become more agile and to reduce system maintenance costs. It is pretty clear, though, that MDM initiatives are more likely to succeed when they’re driven by the business, even if it may have been originally initiated by IT.

Data Quality Pro: What are some of the common concerns cited by business leaders when faced with the prospect of implementing MDM?

Dan Power: Sometimes, there are concerns about the cost, or more likely, justifying the cost with a bullet-proof business case.

You’ll often see a resistance to change by some of the business leaders, who know the status quo isn’t working but still don’t want to commit to a big shift. Once people start to see the benefits of MDM, it gets a lot easier. This is why we usually recommend a progressive deployment, where you introduce MDM to one part of the business or one data domain, solve a business problem with it there, and then move on to more areas of the business, more data domains, and bigger business problems.

Data Quality Pro: A lot of organisations may have already funded previous data management technology acquisitions, is there anything they can re-use or is it”out with the old” and “in with the new”?

Dan Power: You can absolutely reuse a lot of previous investments in data management technology. Any data quality investment is a good candidate for that, as the raw data in your source systems is usually not in good enough shape to feed into your hub. And investments in data integration (such as ETL) can also be helpful.

You may have to give some thought towhichprior technology investments to incorporate, because a lot of large organizations tend to have a little bit of everything installed, and the requirements that drove those previous purchases may not still be valid. But I would absolutely encourage making the best use of previous investments as a way to reduce costs and increase ROI.

Data Quality Pro: What technology trends are you witnessing and who do you feel is really innovating right now?

Dan Power: That’s a tough one.

I see Oracle, Siperian and Initiate all making good investments in their MDM products. I think D&B/Purisma is just finishing the process of fully integrating the Purisma acquisition into D&B, so you should see some more innovation from them soon. IBM and SAP continue to invest as well. Because of the fast growth rate for MDM, there’s a huge number of other players either entering the MDM space or pretending to by re-labelling their existing products.

The biggest trend I’ve been seeing lately is better support in the MDM hub products for data governance and business process management. Obviously, there’s a lot of organizational and process aspects of data governance that you wouldn’t look to a technology product to provide, but anything the technology can do to facilitate data governance is welcome, of course.

Data Quality Pro: What are some of the key points people should look for when selecting a technology framework for MDM?

Dan Power: This is a big question, one worth spending a whole article or more discussing. But in a nutshell, I’d look to the business and spend the right amount of time documenting their pain points and quantifying them, and getting the business requirements down on paper. Then use that to develop a set of evaluation criteria, and add in the relative importance of the criteria to develop an evaluation scorecard for the MDM and related technology.

It’s not rocket science, but failure to develop a strong business case and perform a thorough evaluation & selection process can really hurt an MDM initiative right when it’s getting off the ground.

Data Quality Pro: I have just been reading the great series on modelling the MDM blueprint over on your company blog– are there any emerging standards or frameworks coming forward or are we some way off?

Dan Power: That series on the Hub Designs Blog is being written by James Parnitzke, and he’s been doing a great job describing the modelling aspects of the enterprise architecture involved in master data management.

I think the emerging standards and frameworks he discusses, like the work of theMDM Alliance Group, the Distributed Management Task Force, the Open Applications Group and others, are great and certainly will save people from having to reinvent the wheel. But I think you also have to look to your technology vendors and what they provide, because integrating some of these other tools and frameworks can be a lot of work, and the modelling tools, data dictionaries and metadata repositories of the major vendors have gotten quite good, and there’s a fair amount of integration available between their products and well-regarded third party tools on the market.

Data Quality Pro: So what are the effects of the current economic situation – are organisations cutting back or forging ahead with MDM?

Dan Power: Companies do seem to be forging ahead, albeit at a slower pace than they might have previously. In some industries, there are companies that are investing into the downturn in things like MDM in order to take market share away from their competitors when the economic picture improves.

In other industries, there are regulatory forces that impel them to do MDM initiatives in order to stay compliant. And everyone is interested in doing more with less or in saving money outright, so to the extent that MDM can help with that, it’s still getting approved. But companies are starting off slower or doing more research than they might have done a year or so ago.

Data Quality Pro: Aside from data governance, are there any other “soft” skills that you require expertise in to help organisations implement their MDM vision?

Dan Power: Great question. The ones that come immediately to mind are organizational change management (which can make a huge difference in the acceptance of technology and process redesign projects), corporate communications (keeping all of the various stakeholders current on the developments, and keeping them on board), and politics.

There are usually so many different functional areas, departments, organizations, geographies, product lines, etc. affected by MDM that you need a project champion with very good skills in corporate politics to keep “herding the cats” in the right direction.

Data Quality Pro: What is a logical sequence of events for an organisation to take when starting with an MDM initiative?

Dan Power: I’d say the following

  1. Get educated on MDM and the state of the market
  2. Develop your vision & strategy
  3. Document your requirements and develop your business case
  4. Conduct a thorough technology selection process
  5. Assess your readiness to implement MDM and data governance
  6. Implementation phases, including: Definition & Planning, Analysis & Design, Development and Deployment.

And finally, be sure to incorporate building a data governance organization and business process from the very beginning – don’t try to make that an “add on” after you’ve gone live with your MDM hub.

Hub Solution Designs tends to work closely with clients on steps 1-5 above, and we’re usually involved in step 6 as well.

Photo credits: Creative Commons by JD Hancock

Dan Power, president of Hub Solution Designs

Dan Power, president of Hub Solution Designs

Dan Power

Dan Power is the founder and president of Hub Solution Designs, a global consulting firm that specializes in master data management (MDM) and data governance.

His role at Hub Designs is a combination of best practice expert, industry analyst, client advisor, and thought leader. He’s responsible for client strategy and delivery in the areas of master data management, data governance, content marketing and social media.

Dan advises client management teams on the strategic value of their technology investments, and is the author of more than 25 articles and white papers on MDM and data governance.

Dan is a featured speaker at numerous industry conferences, webinars and vendor events. He writes for Information Management magazine, The Data Warehousing Institute, and the Hub Designs Blog, a widely read blog on MDM and data governance.