If you need a simple analogy for why master data management (MDM) is critical to organizations, consider the word ciel in French. It means sky, but it also means heaven and blue. So which English definition is the right one for a specific use, and what kind of issues might arise if you use the wrong one? 

The point I’m making here is that MDM is not just plumbing that lives deep within your company. Its impact should be visible and relevant in the quality of your decisions. It’s also a combination of people, process, and technology, not just expensive software, so it can’t remain invisible to succeed.

MDM literally helps your teams to speak the same language with as little ambiguity as possible. Here’s another example: the term ‘lead’. A marketing-qualified lead and a sales-qualified lead are both leads, but one is much further along in the purchase process. MDM mitigates getting bogged down in competing definitions and the confusion they can create. You become more agile as a result.

Time to redefine MDM

While we’re talking about definitions, I am considering moving beyond Master Data Management and its associations (slow, arduous, expensive) altogether. Why not brand it as Master Data Agility? And why not rebrand its rules (which people rarely enjoy following) as its principles, which people can aspire to maintain? 

Imagine approaching your C-Suite in the more traditional way: “We need to invest in data quality tools, expand our data visualization capabilities, and improve our data access. We need MDM.” Many executives don’t have a deep understanding of MDM or its value, so you’re likely to get some glazed-over looks. 

Now imagine your pitch is more like this: “Here are ten examples of things we can’t do today. Meanwhile our competitors are moving ahead in these areas. With a Master Data Agility program, we can put the right foundation in place to ensure that we’re always able to make the most of new data technologies and get the highest-value contributions from our employees.”

You’re far more likely to be successful in the second scenario, because you’re selling on the pain points and opportunity. Even more important, you’re helping people across the company understand how to leverage new capabilities to stay ahead or leapfrog competitors.

 Sell the benefits of data agility 

MDM programs traditionally have been sold on the technical specs. I believe data leaders can cover more ground by selling a story on MDM’s benefits. For example:

  • Your data will be more accurate and even certifiable
  • You’ll trust your data instead of fact-checking it and wasting time reconciling it
  • You’ll get to work on the cool stuff and generate more impact in a truly agile way

Generating optimism to make an agile MDM program work means you’ll run into pessimists. You will hear from people who do not want their databases decommissioned. You will be told that you don’t understand; that the legacy data infrastructure is very complicated; and that the current system is highly nuanced.

Focus on the agility that you know the new data definitions, governance, and data access layer will generate. Focus on partnerships based on the “why” of the program. Focus less on the means and more on the ends you want to reach. 

Finally, don’t set your expectations too high. You goal should not be to get everyone to buy in. It should be to get the right percentage of people to buy in — the right set of influencers. As Jim Collins said in Good to Great, you’ve got to get the right people on the bus. And if you want to stay competitive in today’s data-driven environment, agility is a non-negotiable.