Ravi Shankar| Cloudtimes
Remember what first sparked business’ collective imagination about cloud computing? Its potent combination of ubiquitous access, utility pricing and hands-off application maintenance was something entirely new to companies reliant on on-premise applications. From a business perspective, it represented – and still represents – extraordinary agility and line-of-business empowerment. No surprise then that “the business” led the charge into the cloud, resulting in today’s continuing proliferation of cloud-based business applications, from Salesforce CRM and NetSuite to Workday, Xactly, Concur, Eloqua, Marketo, Ultimate Software and scores more. However, success comes at a price and today, the cloud is casting its own shadow across the business landscape – a shadow of data fragmentation that, unless dispelled, will keep companies from realizing the full value of their cloud application investments.
Companies that embrace the cloud eventually use different cloud applications across different business functions – sales, human resources, marketing, finance, customer service, project management, etc. Data is both duplicated and fragmented across all these different cloud systems. Consequently, if you want a holistic view of your customer-related or employee-related operations, for example, you have to go to multiple different sources (not to mention social media!) and the issue of what data to trust rears its ugly head. If this sounds depressingly familiar, it is because we have been here before, with heterogeneous, on-premise enterprise applications. The cloud is still early in its growth trajectory, but at the current rate of adoption, whether it’s application, platform or infrastructure as a service, the stakes are even higher.
Is Data as a Service the solution?
Without cloud-enabled master data management (MDM), the idea of Data as a Service (DaaS) is a hollow promise. Companies turned successfully to MDM to deal with fragmented data in the past in order to reconcile duplicate data, dump outdated data and create centralized, trustworthy business views across disparate on-premise systems. If anything, MDM is even more important for applications that run in the cloud. With DaaS, it doesn’t matter where the data physically resides, it is simply delivered as a service via the cloud. However, the data has to be trusted to be usable and that is where MDM plays a key role, by bringing data from various sources together in the cloud and ensuring its worthiness for consumption. In that regard, MDM is the lynchpin.
MDM is also critical to the cloud because of the diversity of cloud applications and data that are available. For example, with different applications across different functions, even a simple operation such as order-to-cash – taking the order from the customer, tracking the order, shipping the products and invoicing the customer – spans various different applications. Some of these applications may be cloud-based, while others may be on-premise. Regardless, there is going to be considerable data fragmentation and duplication, such as customer data, making it difficult to get a holistic view. MDM can address this diversity while bridging cloud and on-premise environments.
Just as critical is the issue of data domains – customer data, product data, employee data, supplier data, and so on. If you are looking for a single, authoritative view of product adoption, for example, you will have to bring together fragmented data from several disparate applications, including customer, product and perhaps supplier data. You will also be looking to establish relationships across the data. Otherwise, there is no business value. There are some MDM technologies that only produce customer master data, product master data or supplier master data, etc., but not all. In fact, most fall into this single-domain category. However, single-domain is not the kind of MDM technology that one needs to shift to the cloud. Remember its growing diversity of applications and data? You do not want to have your master data become fragmented across disparate MDM technologies, so it is much more advantageous to have a single MDM technology to interlink and manage all master data types – in other words, multi-domain.
Is MDM making inroads into cloud environments? Absolutely. The increased adoption of Salesforce CRM within large businesses is causing many organizations to look to MDM as the solution for reconciling customer data across Salesforce implementations and on-premise enterprise applications. Armed with more complete and authoritative account, opportunity, case and campaign information, these organizations hope to increase sales productivity, enhance customer service and drive a higher return from marketing activities, among other benefits. And, as these cloud-savvy salesforce.com customers embrace MDM, they have a pair of very reasonable expectations. One is for their MDM implementation to deliver the “traditional” cloud value proposition of rapid time-to-value, subscription pricing and no software maintenance. The other is for their MDM solution to manage master data seamlessly within Salesforce.
For these expectations to be met, the MDM implementation needs to be a native Force.com solution that is fully integrated with Salesforce CRM and deployed in the cloud to deliver master data specifically within Salesforce. This is happening today, again specific to Salesforce. Moreover, this particular approach to MDM in the cloud is likely to become ubiquitous as it is extended to support other cloud applications as they grow increasingly vital to the enterprise.
There is a lot of upside potential to where cloud computing will go. Yet today, it is already where much of the innovation and ground-breaking use cases “action” is. Social media data is high on this list. It is all in the cloud. You cannot buy social media tools and install them on premise. The data created from social media is greatly fragmented and enormous in volume. However, you can use MDM technology to reconcile the corporate identity of a customer with his/her social media identity. This makes social media data useful for business purposes, such as sentiment analysis, personalized marketing, social eCommerce, etc. In fact, MDM is the only way to give social data broad business value.
The thing about the future is that it never stops rolling out ahead of us. Tomorrow it may be all about social media data and it is going to be something else after that. Companies are always trying to exploit new sources of data for competitive advantage and data fragmentation is only going to continue to increase as a result. MDM’s value has always been that it takes different data from different sources and makes it authoritative and trustworthy. Cloud-enabled, multi-domain MDM ensures this value in the cloud, managing fragmented data across all cloud and on-premise applications, both today and in the future.