How MDM drives real digital transformation through data innovation

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Bob Eve, Senior Data Management Strategist at TIBCO explains why master data management should be at the heart of legitimate digital transformation.

By adopting a more managed, more connected and more intelligently engineered approach to total information management, organisations can leverage their core master data repository and embark upon steps towards data innovation that delivers radical new products and services.

Technology vendors talk about the process of digital transformation all the time. In many ways, they have to, i.e., it has become the buzzword used to express the move to cloud-native, mobile-first, data-analytics enabled, AI-augmented and ML-accelerated modern systems that are crafted to suit the dynamic speed of modern business.

But there’s a problem. We often hear discussions surrounding the shift to digital served up as an unsubstantiated ‘me-too’ label that technology organisations use without real intent or meaning. It’s almost as if they feel they need to pay some form of lip service to the zeitgeist of contemporary software services and data platforms without actually getting their hands dirty.

Enter master data management

Where so-called digital transformation becomes real-world digital transformation is when and where we see it being applied to practical use cases that truly elevate business models into the connected world of tomorrow. A key facilitating and enabling technology in use at this level is master data management, often referred to by its simple acronym MDM.

Most enterprise organisations operate several different IT and data systems built to serve different departments, customers, employees and (increasingly today) other more virtualised business assets. This reality naturally creates information silos. Data across these disaggregated silos can be duplicated, disjointed and poorly demarcated. 

It should be pretty clear that this predicament does not positively contribute towards the process of digital transformation, regardless of whether or not there is true substance in the transformation project at hand. To address this challenge, an MDM platform enables a business to build, create, nurture, manage and then leverage its most important shared data assets and define that stream of information as its master data.

Data innovation, your next IT yardstick

If it is to be of true productive use and real operational value, master data must be consistent, accurate and accessible. Those core attributes mean that a business working in literally any vertical market you care to think of – from a cake bakery to an oil and gas refinery – can start to perform what we might call ‘data innovation’. 

Not quite an IT industry de facto term yet (although, who knows, it could be soon), data innovation is the ability to use information and devices to create new products, new purchasing abilities, new value chains, new services and new marketplaces that either didn’t exist before, or only existed in some fragmented semi-tangible notion of themselves.

If that sounds a little ephemeral, ethereal and emotive, let’s put some real-world meat on the bones… or in this case, some dough in the oven and some soup in the bowl.

To illustrate a working example of the transformation to digital that we want to clarify and validate here, US bakery and food eatery company Panera Bread is a perfect case in point. The company has harnessed its use of data through MDM controls for competitive digital advantage. 

The company is considerably ahead of its competitors in rolling out e-commerce services, presenting customers with in-store kiosk ordering systems and integrating front of house orders to backroom store inventory and management systems. Today, Panera Bread has brought its use of master data to life by integrating data from its kitchens relating to core ingredients and special seasonally-changing produce to extend those information channels to help the launch of new menu items and special offers.

Turning the most critical data into shared data assets  

Companies who engage in this process start to realise that certain data assets – such as the ones that define their customers, products, vendors, and employees – are core to everything they do and underpin all their information flows. So, why not treat them like the business assets they truly are with investments that ensure their quality, resolve cross-system inconsistencies, and serve them to the business in an easy to use way to yield incredible returns on these assets? 

This is all about removing the appearance of multiple systems, all working through multiple steps in a disaggregated and disconnected way. Whether it’s a bakery eatery like Panera Bread or whether it’s an industrial cement plant, a cinema complex business or some form of professional services organisation, the same theory holds. By controlling their information flows with MDM, organisations can present different customers in different geographical markets with different products and still retain complete control of an increasingly complex supply chain.

If some of this sounds complex, go back to basics every time. If a firm in any market can’t answer comparatively straightforward questions like ‘who is our most important/valuable customer?’, then that should be a perfect call to action for mastering master data management.

The data-paved road ahead

In a world where we can now order a hamburger from an in-store touchscreen or our smartphone and pay for it with an online payment service, almost every aspect of the operation itself has become virtualised – apart perhaps from the mustard and ketchup.

The truly connected burger joint (or bakery or industrial engineering plant) knows when it is about to run out of current stock supplies, and its MDM big-picture view will allow it to initiate follow-on orders. Actually, the MDM system talks to the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, and a series of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bots perform various automated exchanges with the Supply Chain Management (SCM) system.

This means that burger pattie beef (or wheat flour, or sheet steel, or insert raw material of your choice) planning happens out of sight as well. That’s not the point; the point is that these systems can operate with efficacy only when MDM is there to underpin complete confidence in the higher tiers of the IT stack being developed and put into live production. 

Really effective use of MDM gives organisations a 360-degree view of their data. So from this, they can engage, delight and upsell, and increase revenues while reducing sales and marketing costs. Because MDM spans myriad data domains and lines of business, it should be considered an essential building block for any well-considered digital transformation strategy.


All the concepts, methodologies and process practices apply equally to people and human services-centric business. No management or employment consultancy, theatre impresario business or football team (American or soccer, data doesn’t judge) can think about its next decade of development without putting data and MDM first. Whether a business is bowling for soup, digging for oil or aiming for any form of goal, MDM can be the difference that gets a business over the line.

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Amber Donovan-Stevens

Amber is a Content Editor at Top Business Tech

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