Monday, February 6, 2012

MDM's Unsustainable Tech Debt

One of the nice side-effects of Agile Integration Software is the ability to get useful master data easily and quickly. For most companies, an enterprise MDM project takes years to achieve value, and with the huge effort required to maintain each step, tech debt can skyrocket. Before the project is halfway done, changes and new data and sources have already impacted the viability of the outcome. For an MDM project to bring the promised inherent integrity that offers value, the tech debt simply cannot be ignored. Every single change anywhere in the MDM supply chain must be accommodated immediately and correctly throughout the interdependent process and data networks that constitute MDM.

Only stagnant companies don't change! And only a handful of data sets in any company will remain stable enough to last through the MDM implementation lifecycle. The bottom line is that with the current approach to MDM and the speed with which data is proliferating, MDM, is a self-contradictory concept, and we are likely to see long term initiatives slowly and expensively committing suicide.

MDM - long time-to-value:
Consider the components of the cost of implementing MDM.
  •  To start with, you can count on a costly (high six or seven figures) software purchase, likely requiring multiple products.
  •  A team of consultants with a range of expertise to implement the multi-year project.
  •  Internal resources to manage, guide, and work with the consultants
Consider the components of value of an MDM implementation.
  •  Assurance that everyone is using the same data for decisions
  •  Quality and correctness of data
Detracting from the validity, therefore the value of MDM
  •  Continuously changing sources and formats of data. A heavy solution will have difficulty responding immediately to these changes, leaving gaps in the validity of the information.
  •  Latency of data availability due to staging data in a data warehouse or other database. With the current speed of business, users and decision makers need data that is as fresh as possible.
MDM - the building tech debt:

Is MDM even sustainable in its current manifestations? With the complexity of an implementation, the accumulation of tech debt begins as soon as the first Master Data is defined. Every step along the implementation path is fraught with instability.
  •  Defining each master data schema that can be everything to everyone who needs the data
  •  Determining the most correct sources for each component of the master
  •  Determining the criteria for correctness of the data
  •  Determining the optimal refresh time
  •  Designing a database or data warehouse entry appropriate to the master
  •  Implementing the integration necessary to populate the master data store ...or,
  •  Defining and implementing ways users can access and aggregate the data components directly from the sourcesThis doesn't include all the discovery and such that the experts and company team must perform. Clearly this constitutes a large, time-consuming effort, that generally is nowhere near agile or responsive to changes in the company, systems, and requirements.
The MDM project is like an armadillo walking down the hill with its tech-debt snowball rolling behind, growing bigger at every step, threatening to consume MDM. Remember that the snowball started accumulating before the first master data was ever used. It is conceivable that the speed of growing tech debt means that the time to value is infinite (never happens)!

Here is another opportunity for rescue by the paradigm of Agile Integration Software.

More on tech debt:


  1. Your articles and contents are inspirational.

    1. Thank you for your kind words! It's not hard to find interesting things to discuss, since our software is so different from the other players in this space. :)

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