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Master Data Management Blog Feature
John Zimmerer

By: John Zimmerer on November 12th, 2015

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Master Data Management

Integration | Customer | Personalization | Data

Using Master Data Management to Close Gaps in Customer Experience

Gartner defines master data management (MDM) as “a technology-enabled discipline in which business and IT work together to ensure the uniformity, accuracy, stewardship, semantic consistency and accountability of the enterprise’s official shared master data assets. Master data is the consistent and uniform set of identifiers and extended attributes that describes the core entities of the enterprise including customers, prospects, citizens, suppliers, sites, hierarchies and chart of accounts.” Basically, it means linking all data sources into a single master file that provides a common point of reference.

The need for MDM stems from the fact that most organizations’ data are spread across multiple systems and databases. Since the vast majority of organizations have not unified their disparate data sources into a single data layer, the vast majority of organizations also struggle to leverage their data effectively via multiple platforms and applications. MDM is particularly important in customer experience management because customer data is ever-changing and rapidly growing, and real-time accurate personalization capabilities have become a business imperative. If you don’t deliver relevant, timely and accurately personalized dynamic communications, your competitors will.

master data management enables personalization

Understanding the Challenge

For most companies, gathering data is not the problem. Accessing the data they have is the real issue. One major and fundamental roadblock to easy data consolidation is naming conventions. Something as simple as a date of birth can be difficult to match across databases. For example, the field might be called “DOB” in one database, “birthdate” in another, and “date of birth” in a third. The information could be formatted as mm/dd/yyyy in one place and separate fields for month, date and year in another.

Determining the variations and mapping the data to a master unique identifier is not necessarily difficult, but it is time consuming and requires some expertise. Even so, the sheer volume of types and variations of information can get overwhelming very quickly. Many organizations fear that it would be too difficult and expensive to achieve. MDM may be more achievable than many realize, though.

Getting Started with MDM

You don’t have to consolidate every single piece of data under a master file – just the data that are shared and used by several applications within the system (like customer data). Microsoft offers this example: “There are some very well-understood and easily identified master-data items, such as ‘customer’ and ‘product.’ In fact, many define master data by simply reciting a commonly agreed upon master-data item list, such as: customer, product, location, employee, and asset…. For example, a typical ERP system as a minimum will have a Customer Master, an Item Master, and an Account Master.”

So, assuming you have executive buy-in and a budget to implement MDM, begin by selecting an MDM tool. There are many on the market. You may even already have one or more in use in other parts of your organization right now. Solutions range from open-source tools such as Talend and Teiid to enterprise options from IBM, Informatica, and others.

Next, decide what data to manage as master data. Audit your data sources, types, and repositories, as well as the software applications that need access to data (and what types of data the applications need) to narrow down what data should become master data. Note that you could have data coming in from your web site, marketing automation software, mobile app, social media, email, call center, brick-and-mortar locations, mail, SMS, sales team, field service reps, and many more sources. Types of data could be contextual (like geo-location information, device, browser); behavioral (like how a user navigates from page to page on your web site or whether she clicks through from an email); demographic (like gender, age, profession, etc.); and social (like who a person is “friends” with, what kinds of information they share, and so on).

A Major Improvement, but Not a Magic Bullet

Implementing MDM will help organizations that have been struggling with siloed, fractured, dispersed data in many ways. There’s no doubt about that. But it won’t magically fix all your data issues overnight. The problem once you’ve implemented MDM will lie in the limitations of your web content management (WCM) systems. While most WCMs do offer out-of-the-box integration with web analytics software, marketing automation platforms and CRM systems, most are using a very limited amount of available data for personalizing experiences. This is because these WCMs are focused heavily on marketing and sales purposes, so they are designed to personalize for unknown or minimally-known users.

On the customer service side of the house, where customer communications management (CCM) lives, we need more complete data on known users in order to deeply personalize communications and experiences, as customers expect us to do. Once they’re existing customers, it’s simply not enough anymore to rely on vague, overly broad personas; now you have to talk directly to Rebecca Takayo, a 36-year-old mother of two who lives at 123 Persimmon Dr. in Ashland, Nebraska, who uses an iPhone, has registered on the web customer service portal, and has filed one auto insurance claim in the ten years she’s been a policy holder with your company (for example).

While many CCM solutions rely on their own data repositories to personalize customer communications, that’s not ideal since it creates redundant data and runs the risk of using incomplete or inaccurate data. An organization using MDM can streamline access to much (if not most) data CCM needs, thereby cutting costs associated with extra data storage, maintenance and bandwidth, as well as potentially speeding up the IT processes that support data management. If applications don’t have to fight for bandwidth to access data, all business processes can be improved – perhaps marginally, or perhaps dramatically.

To learn more about data management for digital experience delivery and customer communications management, download our free ebook, “Close the Gaps in Your Customer Experience.”

Click to download the customer experience eBook

 Image credit: "data.path Ryoji.Ikeda - 3" by r2hox