Getting different departments to agree on the definitions during a SOA-oriented Master Data Management initiative can be difficult. Departments naturally want to stick with established definitions, rather than learn new terminology. Such disagreements are not necessarily a bad thing.
"It's actually a good problem to have," said Umesh Hari, Principal of the information management practice at Deloitte Consulting. "All along data was looked at as an IT asset. But for an organization today, data has to be considered a corporate asset, owned by the business. So it's good to have multiple business units looking at data and wanting to own it."
Hari advises that cross-department data use is not a problem of the data definitions themselves, but instead is a problem in the way the cross-department definitions allow data to be managed. "When you say that different departments want to manage the same data, what they're really talking about is managing different elements along the lifecycle of that master data." To allow for this kind of management, Hari suggests having a way to properly assign attributes and associations.
He gives as an example the "customer," which may represent an organization, and suggests adding roles to that customer to represent the individuals within the organization. One "role" for a customer name would represent the person who files a purchase order. That same customer name would also have a role assigned to the person to whom material may be shipped, and another role would stand for the person who receives the invoice. Each role would have specific attributes, such as phone number and address.
Such a set up, of course, requires that "customers" and "roles" have clear, appropriate definitions. But when it comes to sharing data between departments, the way these definitions relate to each other is more important than the definition itself. "So as long as we can structure the standards and the taxonomy and bring in the right data architecture, we can resolve those issues," said Hari.
This was first published in April 2010