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In this data-driven world, you won’t get far without master data fuel

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/alexskopje)

The sheer volume and velocity of data available can be overwhelming for the modern enterprise – it’s almost impossible to maintain a business’ vast number of data sources. But in today’s data-driven world, information can be an organisation’s most valuable asset if it is harnessed, integrated and managed in a structured way. Companies are increasingly looking to leverage data across their enterprise: across all departments, regions, markets and activities. Data is being used to find new ways to engage with customers, partners and suppliers to gain a competitive advantage and strengthen relationships.  

To get the most value from data, there must be structure in place to pull together disparate sources and distil the most useful and relevant information. Enter ‘Master data’. This is the foundation of any data-inspired enterprise and is the fuel that should flow through the entire ecosystem of the business. To be most effective, companies need a standardised way to connect their data sources with a master data framework at the core of business operations. Master data should no longer be relegated as some back-end system. It is the differentiator between an overwhelming flood of information that is unstructured and ineffective and standardised, structured, highly trusted data that can transform your business. 

The importance of master data  

Just as a car won’t perform if it isn’t fuelled correctly, the same is true about the data that flows through an organisation. The data needs to be accurate, timely and well-structured. There also needs to be robust processes and governance in place to manage the data effectively and plug it into the organisation’s ecosystem.   

Volume, velocity & variety – the variety of data can be the toughest  

Data is everywhere and managing it is a challenge facing every organisation. But it’s not just the volume or velocity of data that needs to be managed; it’s also the variety. With so many different and real-time sources of information, it’s essential to standardise data to optimise use across the business. Businesses need to create a common view of their most important business relationships – specifically customers, vendors, partners and prospects – from a range of sources, including social media platforms and internal siloed databases. If data is not managed effectively, and trusted by your organisation, decisions could be made based on incomplete or inaccurate information. After all, good decisions made on bad data are just bad decisions you don’t know about yet. 

Finding the Four Cs of Master Data  

Keeping the process simple is central to success when it comes to master data. Simple doesn’t always mean easy but a useful way to approach this is by using the Four Cs: code, company, category and country.  

Every record, or entity, needs a code or some sort of unique identifier. Yet, since every system has its own set of codes you probably have multiple different versions across departments. Tie these together and you achieve a single, unified view of your business. Again simple sounding approach, but not always easy to execute.  

You then need to understand what this entity belongs to through a hierarchical structure. Hierarchy has multiple levels, from location, branch, divisions, subsidiaries, all the way up to a global parent. The bigger the company the more complex the hierarchy is. Are you selling to the relevant divisions? Are you exposing yourself at a higher risk? Do you already have a long-standing relationship? You won’t be able to answer these questions unless you have a complete hierarchy.    

Then you need to categorise your relationships. You need to know what type of company you are dealing with or targeting, especially if you don’t already have a relationship with that organisation. Categories define markets, enable segmentation and are the common denominator for penetration. Targeting prospects is often based on category attributes such as industry, segment, sub-segment and so forth. Look at leveraging a standardised category structure wherever possible and practical.  

You finally need a country, and some form of geography to determine location. Geography also has its own hierarchy; think of an address: it has a door number, street name, town, country and postcode, media market, sales market and measurement market. Agreeing on a common definition of market will clear up lots of confusion between sales, brand, finance and operations.  

A code enables you to give each partner, supplier and customer a unique identity. The company data tells you more about the business, including who owns it. A category gives further insight into what a business does. And the country and geography lets you know where it operates. If you can consistently apply all the Four Cs it will be much simpler to effectively manage your relationships across the entire enterprise. 

Speaking the right language  

The awareness of master data as a term, let alone concept, isn’t as great as it could or should be. Properly leveraged master data is the foundation of any data-driven strategy and digital transformation. Taking your business’ master data, structuring it and using it to connect the silos in your business to make sure it covers all your organisational needs is a valuable asset. No matter where your company is in its data journey, you can start to create an environment where your business can rely on the data you push to your teams’ platforms, and be assured that that data is helping teams to make more informed decisions.  

Master data isn’t just another business solution. It is essential for organisations to invest in their foundational (or ‘master’) data. It’s all about ensuring the data in your database is accurate, structured and clean so it can be used effectively by all departments. This allows connected interactions with your customers and stakeholders from any area of the business, whether it is sales, marketing, HR or finance.  

Simply put, master data is the most important data that a business can share across the enterprise. Having a universal language across the entire business that informs business relationships is paramount in the data-driven world. Master data should be the language of the modern business world, and it’s one that must be learnt fluently.     

Scott Taylor, Market Development & Innovation Leader, Dun & Bradstreet 

Image Credit: Alexskopje / Shutterstock

Scott Taylor
Scott Taylor is Dun & Bradstreet’s Master Data: Market Development and Innovation lead. Listed as the “Data Whisperer” on LinkedIn, Scott has over 20 years of experience providing data, information, technology, promotion, digital, media and trade solutions.