Master data – Super boring but also Super important!

The mentioning of the Master data often leads to sad looks and sighing sounds. Most customers have heard the term and know deep down that this is something “they should take hold of”, but it is an activity that rarely ends up so high on the list that it is performed. It is only when it gets close to a system exchange or other major changes to the infrastructure that the matter becomes relevant and then many customers realize that this will “hurt”. The question is why this is perceived as boring and why it is rarely done? The simple answer is probably a combination of the fact that the concept is “diffuse” and unclear to many, while in everyday life there are seldom such big problems that the business is forced into a master data project.

Let’s start with the diffuse. A common and incorrect perception is that master data is only about getting your main files in order, such as customers, suppliers and products. Over time, these files always (at least in the past) lose quality due to the fact that the responsibility for registration has changed between a number of users and that the need of the content has changed overtime as the focus of the business has changed over time. However, Master data is not just about cleaning up the files and getting nomenclatures and categorizations in order. It is also about establishing ownership of the information model in general with clarity about data sources, principles for the exchange of information between systems, conditions for changing data content and much more. The organizations that have been through a so-called master data project know that it is rarely a one-time job. Instead, it requires several steps that begins with an analysis, then an implementation and not least the establishment of a management organization also for master data.

Master data is not something new. We have been talking about this for many years. However, what is worth considering today and in the future is that we can predict that the requirements for “order and quality” in master data and registers will be even more significant in the future. The reason for this is that we see a clear trend towards the IT landscape once again becoming “fragmented” with the introduction of cloud-based systems / services that will interact with the existing infrastructure. In this context, the word fragmented should not be perceived as negative, as has been the case before. Instead, one should see fragmented in the light of the fact that today there are greater opportunities to use external systems / services but still maintaining a relatively “seamless” information flow. You should always have respect for integrations, but many of today’s systems offer good opportunities to exchange information, which entails less challenges compared to what we have been used to during the previous 30 years.

In addition to the fact that the number of data sources is gradually increasing, we clearly see that the data volumes are increasing. It is becoming increasingly common to store information in the form of “real-time data” such as tracing what is happening online, and user patterns and experiences from customer service, telephone queues, chats and the like. You then also get into the subject of “unstructured” data, which is also becoming more and more common.

As a result of the increase in the number of data sources and the increase in the total volume of data, master data will therefore be an important aspect in order to be able to take control of one’s own situation. The challenge is that it often requires a change of approach. Master data is something you have to work with continuously and not a one-time project. But you have to start somewhere, and the first step should be to perform an inventory of your current situation and set this against the business’ development plans when it comes to how to develop and change your role in the market and the relationship with your customers and suppliers. Once you have clarified this, you can perform a gap analysis and clarify responsibilities and when and how to support and get quality in your information flows. If you can change your approach, master data will instead appear as an important and even critical piece of the puzzle in the company’s development and survival.

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