A small step for MDM, a giant leap for data management

DataFlux has just unveiled its new enterprise-wide data integration and MDM platform. The solution looks set to change the game in this space and how his company works with parent SAS, as CEO Tony Fisher explains to David Reed.

It is fair to say that Master Data Management does not win a great deal of attention. Even within companies that are pursuing data governance, MDM has been adopted by just 15 per cent, according to our latest survey (see page 23).

But frame the issue a different way and you get a lot more interest. In the same survey, 98 per cent of companies with a data governance programme say they view their data as a strategic asset.

Tony Fisher, CEO of DataFlux, is the author of what remains one of a bare handful of books written on the subject of treating data as if it had a genuine asset value. With the release of his company’s latest solution, the DataFlux Data Management Platform, he has added a practical tool for managing that asset to the theoretical tools he wrote about.

“it is a very important step for us. It is the single largest technology release we have had in the history of the company,” he says. “This really is central to our future and to the future of data management.”

What DMP offers is a unified solution that allows data stewards in lines of business to develop and change rules about data and propagate them right across the enterprise. At the same time, IT can design, test and monitor data quality and data integration routines within the same platform. All sides can monitor usage, compliance and key data performance indicators.

Reaching this stage has not been a short process. Two years of software development have been involved with a large team deployed across the project. In fact, DMP is the outcome of an important re-organisation at the company.

“DataFlux has always been very strong in the areas of operational data integration, data quality, web services and service-oriented architecture. Our parent SAS has been strong in ETL and data warehousing. We combined those two groups into one,” says Fisher.

Given the relative size and market footprint of both companies, that resource integration represents an important vote of confidence. “It was a development that could have gone either way. Early in our history when Dr Goodnight [founder of SAS] bought us, he knew our tools would be valuable in ETL and data warehousing. . Now he sees a big market for data management outside the domain of SAS and their products,” notes Fisher.

This belief in the potential of what had historically been a niche MDM vendor was repaid when the company saw 30 per cent growth in its revenues during 2009 – a time when many other IT and data projects were being put on hold. By fuelling the company up for a growth sector, SAS has also been able to protect its own positioning in the arena of predictive analytics and business intelligence.

There were also practical considerations in giving DataFlux the development resources. “DMP is environment neutral,” says Fisher. The solution has to cater to two audiences – SAS users and non-SAS users. “There is some overlap between us, but more where there is not,” he says.
The enterprise-wide nature of the data management process means pulling data into and out of a wide range of systems. Data needs to be explored, profiled, managed and mastered wherever it is found and in any environment the business uses for its core processes. The new solution allows that to happen and gives data stewards the ability to create rules once and then populate all of those environments with them.
“We needed to make sure we were not just supporting SAS, so we have got robust SQL, XML and data integration platforms. We couldn’t just go after one or other of those audiences,” says Fisher. “This way was easier for everybody, including SAS.”

One area of activity that has attracted investment in the last year has been consolidation, for example where a business is reducing its core SAP environment from multiple platforms to just two or three. Data integration and MDM are often central to those projects and are a major market for DataFlux to go after.

“We are also making huge progress in the area of data governance. A lot more companies are now interested in both data management and data quality than they were in the past,” he says.

Even so, this remains a market in which Fisher recognises the need to “educate and evangelise” in order to attract interest. But having got the theory under his belt by writing the book on the subject, he now has the practical tools to help companies make progress.

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