Data master class

Master data management (MDM) is a set of tools and processes that ensure the quality and consistency of business data across an organisation.

But for most companies, still struggling with the basics of data quality, MDM and the hallowed ideal of a ‘single view of the truth’ are a long way off. International marketing services company CPP Group, a company for whom information is the essence of its business, is an exception.

The company has achieved savings of £500,000 by deploying an MDM hub from data management specialist Dataflux. The decision to deploy the hub in 2008 was informed by CPP’s strategy to bring control of its customer intelligence back in house.

“We previously outsourced to a managed services provider, who did all our customer matching with a bit of linear processing,” explains Charles Blyth, the company’s head of business intelligence.

“The system wasn’t integrated, it was standalone and hosted,” he recalls. “I like to have things at my fingertips, but we were reliant on requesting information or changes from [the third-party provider], which led to delays and lost opportunities. The real pain was a lack of integration, slow responses and cost.”

The ultimate aim in bringing customer data back into the fold was to create a source of information for all applications in real time, while at the same time “pushing data stewardship out to the business rather than cleansing it retrospectively,” says Blyth.

That led the company to evaluate MDM products, in turn selecting Dataflux. The first phase began in October 2008 and ended with the delivery of the core MDM hub joined up to three formerly disparate business entities: customer data (including record de-duplication, matching and profiling functions), business partner data and policy data. Given the general perception of MDM as an expensive ‘big bang’ project, CPP opted to approach it in small chunks, beginning with customer data and selling it to the business by analysing the real cost of ‘dirty data’.

“We believe every contact is a sales opportunity, so if we have a failed contact we can cost it out,” Blyth explains. “That let us build a pretty good business case around the cost of dirty data.” It helped that the company’s CIO and managing director for Northern Europe bought into the idea, which meant the project “didn’t have a lot of resistance”.

The infrastructure requirements were minimal. The MDM hub itself runs on a single server and is very undemanding as an application.

“Very little contact was required with technical services,” Blyth says, “and there were no network issues like we had when we deployed Business Objects, which was hard work.”

But that is not to say the deployment was easy.

“I must admit when we kicked it off I thought, ‘Oh, we’re implementing another data warehouse project, we’ve done it all before,’” recalls Blyth. “But it’s not just a data warehouse project. It is very aligned to application or software development on the application layer.

“There were particular challenges around what data to put in, and whether it should be monolithic or lean and mean,” he explains. “Understanding what to put in the MDM hub from the beginning is quite key.”

Overcoming those challenges has proven worthwhile, however. Blyth expects to see operational savings and value from competitive advantage far beyond the half million saved to date.

Having deployed the MDM hub in its UK data centre, CPP is now taking the MDM hub global with a deployment in Spain and Turkey. And importantly, the processes and technologies that protect the integrity of its customer data are greatly improved.

 “De-duplication is now a lot more accurate, and since we now have our hands on our data we can do it more frequently,” Blyth explains, by way of example. “Instead of a customer refresh every month we can do it weekly, and we’re moving towards doing it daily.”

According to Blyth, adopting MDM has helped CPP achieve the goal that most organisations can only dream of.

“I’ve been in data warehousing for a long time and the ‘single version of the truth’ [ideal] has always been out there,” says Blyth. “But I’ve never reached it until doing something like this.”  

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