Data Management Is Not The New Gold But People Are

By: Brian Beil

At its heart, Master Data Management (MDM) is really all about people who rely on a process that leverages some technology, which ultimately needs useful data to make the whole thing work.  So it’s not surprising that often the biggest risk to the success of an enterprise MDM solution implementation comes from the human dimension relating to the level of change and the effectiveness of the business adopting the new processes.

data management

While the specifics are many and varied, in the end it turns out that just like with everything else, getting people in any large organization to engage, understand, and adapt to doing things differently can be difficult! Sometimes it might be due to their fear of the unknown, while other times it might be due to feelings of intimidation in what’s involved.

The main takeaway is, in major data initiatives, as in any operational transformation project, taking care to address the needs of the people who are affected by the transformation is the best approach to ensure project success. 

The Human Element Matters The Most 

Organizational change management is often overlooked or is an afterthought on a data project, yet it is critical to the success of an enterprise MDM implementation. After the project ends, what remains are the processes that people have to adopt as their new ways of working.  Business adoption plays a critical role in not just the implementation process but the sustainability of the new model thereafter. 

So when those human elements aren’t aligned with the new process and technology, or the disruption caused by the change, the project takes on a whole new dimension of risk.

Without people to provide the requirements, design the application, integrate the master data across the technical landscape, and connect the dots across global processes, even the best MDM solution that is technically sound and well implemented can fail to deliver its intended value.  

How to Get People On Board

There’s no cut-and-dry solution here, but you can mitigate much of the lack of participation and the resistance from team members by proactively building in a comprehensive organizational change management plan early into the lifecycle of the project.

People need to feel that they are part of the solution, as well as not feel threatened, overwhelmed, or in the dark by the organizational and process changes that will likely come from optimizing data lifecycle management processes.  

Teach and Preach That MDM Is First and Foremost About Process

Often, people don’t understand what MDM is all about and think it’s just something purely technical. It’s important to both explain it in business terms as well as in the context of how it benefits the organization and more importantly how it impacts individuals, their department, their job, etc. MDM is a structured process to govern the responsibility, creation, accuracy, use, and maintenance of data to enable people to do their jobs more effectively and accurately.

In other words, “what’s in it for me?”…for themselves, their department, or business operation? MDM implementation success is driven by informing and exciting people about what MDM will bring!

Help Them Understand How Their Jobs Will Be Impacted

There’s no need to sweep this fact under the rug: efficiencies introduced by MDM can result in organizational structure changes, job re-purposing, role changes, etc. People will not cooperate on a project that they believe will eliminate their job, and it’s the project leadership’s role to neutralize the threat of job elimination from the beginning to ensure open communication and cooperation.

The key is bringing the stakeholders along the change journey. Communicate early and often on how the ‘day in the life’ will be different in the new world and what it means for them. Document the key differences in related business processes early and refine often to ensure everyone has the same understanding of the new way of working. Update work instructions to reflect how new systems and processes will impact each individual’s work, and provide in depth end to end initial training, as well as several refresher training to ensure full adoption.

Make Key Participation Mandatory

Often organizations take on MDM projects without understanding the impact they will have on the people in operations currently creating and maintaining the data.  To mitigate this gap, identify key data resources upfront and secure and allocate the time they’ll need to dedicate to the project to provide immediate feedback on change impacts.

And both top-down leadership and bottom-up end-user engagement is necessary to enable the common vision and mission of the project to have individual meaning. If necessary, connect the MDM’s project success to these individual’s goals and objectives.

Stress The Importance of Connecting The Dots 

Enterprise MDM introduces the concept that master data entities are common and consistent across the entire organization, no matter which department or function uses the data. There’s no longer one set of data used for one business purpose in accounting and another set used in IT. It’s all cohesive and all comes from the same master data.

Resistance will surely be experienced when trying to get access to data that is currently owned by individual business units or departments. Forcing people to share control over something that they own or removing the ownership from them all together is difficult and often causes resistance to change and a feeling of loss of control and sometimes even a loss of stature and importance. They may refer to the current data as “their data” and may do everything to hold onto it.

This is where data governance and effective communication come into play. Communicate the value and specific use cases of how data that meets the needs of the entire organization, and why for that to occur it must be universally defined and understood. Similarly, the rules for how to share and who has the authority to do what and make decisions must be well-defined, understood, and agreed upon.

Hold People Accountable

Accountability is critical to ensure high quality master data since it’s a shared resource and no single person or department “owns” it and many people, groups, and departments contribute to the creation and maintenance of it.

This is where establishing data quality scorecards, clear workflows, and process cycle-time measurements are critical for driving accountability through visibility, as well as to measure and monitor opportunities for improvement. Establish and communicate metrics to monitor project outcomes so that the value of the MDM is continuously demonstrated, and stakeholders are reminded of why it’s so important.

A total accountability model eventually requires integration of master data governance into every process that requires it; no system or business process should be permitted to create or maintain its own isolated master data, and this must be reinforced by both Business and IT leadership.

Change Management Must Be Embraced by Leadership

Business adoption of enterprise MDM is most effective when Business and IT leaders actively recognize that change will occur, support a robust change management process, and become change champions for the organization. Leaders must also create a culture of accountability and align individual goals and objectives with the project to drive stakeholder engagement and long term adoption of the new solution. 

Master Change Management to Succeed in Master Data Management 

A good change management program integrated with an MDM system implementation can help both leaders and stakeholders across the organization to effectively engage with the project and understand how to bridge the gap between the old and the new ways of utilizing data. Not only is change management necessary to communicate the value that MDM will bring to the organization, but it will also ease and mitigate the impact of organization change, enabling a faster and more effective adoption of the new data operations framework.