Master identity, not data

In an enterprise application environment, Master Data Management (MDM) used to refer to the desire to achieve a ‘golden record’ within a data domain. It was the holy grail of enterprise computing – a single version of the truth in a single repository, indicating mastery of organisational data – but then reality set in.

Control data

MDM emerged from the age of enterprise application computing and is being stress tested by the prevalence of cloud and cloud platforms. Do you really want to chew up bandwidth by moving lots of data around?

The more modern pragmatic view is that master data is literally the information without which (should an organisation’s systems fail) the organisation cannot function.

For a small business, simple examples would be a customer database (even in hard copy); a stock list; a list of creditors and debtors with amounts and due dates; or supplier contact and contract arrangements and SLAs. This is about having a control set of data and having control of data – not just having a ‘golden record’. Golden records do not necessarily form part of organisational knowledge and they are not an end in themselves.

Control ecosystem

The golden record is supposed to be a single source of truth, a correct record with total referential integrity. But, in truth, this should be a default function of any self-respecting, IT system. This is why data-centricity is key to digital… all parts of the ecosystem should have the ‘same’ truth at that moment in time. For example, the executive should be able to drill down to underlying transaction data as seen by the customer, so they can have a meaningful conversation if there is a problem. Just having a post hoc golden record from the company’s perspective does not move the customer relationship forward.

What organisations should look to is the control set they need as failover: and build semantically-described digital systems according to the knowledge that really matters to the business. Knowledge is founded in meaning and salience, focused on a single, resolvable identity.  ‘Mastering’ data without mastering identity, means you do not have control of your digital ecosystem.