Still Wet Behind the Ears – A Master Data Journey

It’s the year 2000, and I’ve just completed my N4 qualification in Industrial Engineering (whatever that means). Soon after this my Dad organized a job for me in a little computer shop on Kritzinger Road in Alberton, pretty much giving me the following solid advice before shipping me off to work: “Colin, keep your eyelids up and see what you can see” (Borrowed from Dr. Seuss’ “And to think that I saw it on Mulberry Street” which my 21 month old daughter loves reading with me before bedtime).

The working world wasn’t foreign to me. I had been a waiter on a temporary basis earlier in life, had helped my Dad in his many business ventures before that and also worked in a dodgy Car Audio shop called “A to Z Car Radio” in Alberton North during college holidays. This time round things were different. No more school, no more college, and the reality of having to move out of home within the next year setting in more and more every day. I was 17, and compared to the other people working in the shop I was very much “Wet Behind the Ears”. I had no idea what to do, how to act and how to address people when I assisted them.

Having been brought up Afrikaans (because as you know my name is Jan Poggenpoel…) I addressed everyone as “Oom” and “Tannie”, had a very heavy Afrikaans accent and was shyer and more bewildered than a wombat caught in a truck’s headlights. All of these “features” of mine, and many more, annoyed my boss very much and made me the object of many antics during my 3.5 year tenure at Matrix Warehouse. I had no idea where my “career” would lead me, but that was OK. The fact that I had a job and would have my own place soon was enough to keep me happy for a while.

As a side note, I had a quick look on Google Maps and the shop still exists, but is now an Indian Food joint. I wonder how I would have acted had I been brought up as a Moodley or Naidoo… I digress.


So why MDM?

I “stumbled” across Master Data Management roughly 2 years ago and fell in love with its concept, its methodologies and its clear messaging around the impact correctly managed data can have on a business. This intrinsic understanding of the value of data didn’t just appear over night, but was crafted in me by working with data on a daily basis, day in and day out, for 8 years. As a BI Professional my duties ranged from “ETL-ing” data, cleaning data, merging data, analysing data, modelling data, “beautifying” data (reports and dashboards), and ultimately selling tools to customers that helped them make decisions on their data. All this work taught me a very important lesson: Data are dirty, most people don’t know about the state their data are in, and those who know about it either don’t have the power to change it, don’t want it changed for job security purposes or they believe there are “bigger fish to fry” than poor quality data.

The sad reality is that as a BI Professional I know the amount of work involved in cleaning data in order to present it to business is often massive. I also know that this is a daily struggle faced by my brothers and sisters in data and that a movement needs to be started to take CONTROL of the data!! Wait, I am getting ahead of myself. Let me rephrase that last sentence. I also know that there are masses of developers who, on a daily basis, have to bear the brunt of the blame from business who lament the fact that their reports are never correct, but being blissfully unaware of the fact that the source of their issues starts with the person they see in the mirror every morning.

Looking for a solution to the problem I knew originated in the hands of business, I started scratching around and was handed a book by a little know professional called David Loshin. I was blown away! He wrote with such clarity and certainty that I was convinced I could conquer the world, freeing my brothers and sisters!! Mmm. There I go again. Carrying on swiftly… I was soon handed a book which spoke about “Process Driven Master Data”, which by the way seemed to be a buzz word going around at that time. Right! PROCESS!! THAT is the answer! Address the process and you address the data issues! No. Not quite. What about “People, Technology and Data” Mr. Smarty Pants? What about “Data Governance”, DAMA and DMBOK? Have you joined DAMA in South Africa? Do you know they are affective / ineffective? Is your customer mature enough to handle Master Data?? Haven’t you heard about what Nicola Askham and Robert Seiner have to say about Data Governance? What about Danette McGilvray’s book / view? Data Modelling? Have you read Steve Hoberman’s books? What about Zetta’s view on Master Data and Data Governance? What about this? What about that?

And there I was, 17 years old again and still “Wet Behind the Ears”, staring at the “Oom” in front of me who’s Pentium 3 PC had a corrupt operating system as a result of a virus he obtained from visiting a dirty website (which his wife doesn’t know about yet). What do I do? Do I fix his OS and send him home (do I clean your data Mr. Customer and then leave you to yourself again)? Do I sell him an anti-virus tool (do I sell you an MDM tool to fix and manage your data Mr. Customer)? Do I advise him to not visit such sites for fear of righteous retribution (do I try to fix your processes and advise you on your lack of Data Governance Mr. Customer)? Mmm…

I believe that solving my customers’ data issues is not a simple task, and is a problem which requires a combination of all of the solutions above along with a lot of help from the Data Community out there, and much wisdom and patience along the way.

Thanks for reading,