Home Think Topics Master data management What is master data management (MDM)?
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Published: 19 June 2024
Contributors: Tim Mucci

What is master data management?

Master data management (MDM) is a comprehensive approach to managing an organization's critical data across the enterprise. MDM uses technology, tools and processes to create a unified master data service that consolidates key enterprise data assets such as customer information, product details and location data.

MDM involves establishing workflows to streamline these processes and guarantee consistent data handling across the organization. This master data is shared and used by various applications and systems within the organization to reduce data fragmentation, siloed data, duplication and inaccuracies.

Supported by a well-defined data model and solid data stewardship to dictate how master data is structured and related, MDM is crucial for supporting informed data-driven decisions and operational efficiency.

For example, in a large organization, different departments might maintain separate records of the same customer, leading to inconsistencies and inefficiencies. MDM helps to create a "golden record," a single source of truth that integrates data from various sources, affirming that everyone in the organization works with the same information. APIs facilitate data integration from multiple source systems, enabling seamless data exchange and certifying that the master data is consistently updated. This 360-degree view of data entities facilitates better data handling throughout the organization.

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What is master data?

Businesses rely on a network of separate applications like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and customer relationship management (CRM), where data that crosses organizational departments or divisions can become fragmented, duplicated and outdated. If this occurs, business analytics and performance questions will be challenging to answer. As data increases, timely information becomes more difficult yet important to attain. Master data must be managed consistently, keeping definitions relevant so all parts of a business can access and trust it. Master data is typified by being less volatile, more complex and valuable, supporting decision-making and day-to-day operations.

There are six types of data commonly found in an organization:

  • Unstructured data: Emails, white papers, product specifications and PDF files.
  • Transactional data: Business events and transactions, such as sales, invoices and claims.
  • Metadata: Data about other data, such as report definitions and log files.
  • Hierarchical data: Relationships between data, such as organizational structures or product lines.
  • Reference data: Data used to classify or categorize other data, such as country and currency codes and other industry classifications.
  • Master data: Core data describing key business entities, such as customers, products and locations.

Master data domains and related subdomains include:

  • Customer: Customer, employee, salesperson
  • Product: Product, part, store, asset
  • Supplier: Supplier contact, delivery schedules, contract terms
  • Location: Office location, geographic divisions
  • Other: Contract, warranty, license

Creating and maintaining high-quality master data involves integrating data from various source systems, deduplicating records to eliminate redundancies, reconciling discrepancies and enriching the data to enhance its value.

Examples of master data management

Effective master data management protects against inconsistency in quality and usability across domains.

CRM: Prevents incorrect billing and duplicate marketing efforts by maintaining a single source of customer data.

Product management: This involves maintaining consistent product information across different systems, which is crucial for inventory management, pricing strategies and supply chain efficiency.

Compliance and risk management: Provides accurate and up-to-date information to help organizations meet regulatory requirements to avoid penalties.

ERP: Consolidates data from various departments to enable data-driven decisions and greater efficiency throughout operations.

Importance of a master data management strategy

An efficient master data management solution eases data integration, reconciliation, enrichment and governance processes. A critical aspect of a master data management strategy is identifying what data should be managed as master data. This involves considering behavior, lifecycle, complexity, value, volatility and reuse. Determining which data entities have the most significant business impact is important for focusing resources on managing the most critical data. Once identified, governance policies must be defined, processes for managing data across its lifecycle established and appropriate tools and technologies must be selected.

A well-defined MDM strategy eliminates data silos and increases collaboration between departments. Centralizing and governing data makes it inherently easier to access and trust. Integrating data fosters a collaborative environment where departments can share insights, reduce redundancies and improve overall productivity.

Central data governance is crucial. A robust solution protects data across its lifecycle and helps prevent errors that can propagate through various systems and applications. An incorrect address in the customer master data can result in invoices, products and other materials being sent to the wrong location, leading to customer dissatisfaction and increased operational costs.

High-quality, consistent data is essential for advanced analytics and personalized customer experiences. Master data allows organizations to generate meaningful insights that drive informed decisions and tailored customer interactions, such as through segmentation. By having a complete view of customer data sets, businesses can identify trends and preferences, enabling them to offer personalized products and services that enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty.

A notable benefit of an MDM solution is the time saved on infrastructure upkeep and other activities that typically drain resources. With a centralized and well-maintained data management system, organizations can reduce the time and effort spent managing disparate data sources, allowing IT and data management teams to focus on more strategic initiatives.

Challenges of master data management

Without a master data management strategy, organizations risk maintaining multiple, potentially inconsistent versions of the same data, leading to inefficiencies, errors and misinformed decisions. This fragmentation can cause significant operational problems, including duplicated efforts, inaccurate reporting and poor customer experiences. Also, organizations face regulatory scrutiny when it comes to data handling. MDM helps organizations adhere to data governance policies, providing reliable audit trails and reducing non-compliance risk. In mergers and acquisitions, MDM facilitates the integration of disparate data systems, preventing the chaos of uncoordinated data reconciliation processes.

A primary challenge in MDM is maintaining a "single version of the truth" across multiple copies of master data. Organizations often store data in various systems, each potentially holding different versions of the same data entities. Synchronizing these disparate data sources and ensuring they reflect accurate information is complex. Achieving a single, unified view of data requires processes for data integration, deduplication and synchronization.

Confirming data quality is another critical challenge. Data quality issues, such as inaccuracies, inconsistencies and incompleteness, can undermine an organization. Data quality management practices, including data cleansing, validation and enrichment, often involve continuous monitoring and improving data quality metrics to maintain high standards.

Managing data reconciliation is also a hurdle. Data reconciliation involves comparing and aligning data from different sources. The presence of conflicting data values, different data formats and varying data update frequencies can complicate this process. Successful data reconciliation requires sophisticated algorithms and tools capable of handling these complexities.

Data transformation adds another layer of difficulty. Converting data from one format or structure to another to meet the requirements of different systems and applications can be intricate, mainly when dealing with large volumes of data and complex data relationships. Organizations must carefully design and manage data transformation processes to ensure that data remains consistent throughout its lifecycle.

Balancing data detail and normalization presents its own set of challenges. Normalization involves organizing data to reduce redundancy and improve data integrity. However, over-normalization can lead to overly complex data structures that are difficult to manage and query. Conversely, insufficient normalization can result in data duplication and inconsistencies. Striking the right balance between data detail and normalization is essential.

A comprehensive master data management solution is foundational for any organization aiming to use its data assets sustainably while verifying regulatory compliance and supporting advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning.

Common uses for master data management

Organizations use MDM in various ways to support business functions and drive operational improvements.


Extensively used to maintain a single source of customer information. For example, master customer data management can prevent issues like sending bills to outdated addresses or duplicating customer records, which can lead to redundant communications and poor customer experiences. Integrating customer data from multiple sources helps organizations enhance customer satisfaction and loyalty through personalized and relevant interactions.

Product information management (PIM)

Consistency is crucial for inventory management, pricing strategies and supply chain efficiency. A company can guarantee that product descriptions, pricing and specifications are uniform across e-commerce platforms, physical stores and internal systems. This prevents errors such as incorrect pricing or product mislabeling, supporting efficient operations and enhancing customer trust.

Regulatory compliance and risk management

Complete data is essential for meeting regulatory requirements and avoiding penalties. Maintaining customer data helps financial institutions comply with Know Your Customer (KYC) regulations, while product data helps manufacturers meet industry-specific compliance standards.

ERP Systems

By drawing from a single version of the truth, all ERP modules work with the same data. Consistent supplier data can streamline procurement processes and financial data can support more reliable financial reporting and forecasting.

Mergers and acquisitions

During mergers and acquisitions, organizations often face the challenge of integrating duplicate master data from different entities. MDM helps reconcile these data sources, securing consistency and reducing operational inefficiencies. By deduplicating master data, MDM facilitates smoother integration processes during and after the merger or acquisition.

Operational efficiency

MDM improves the quality and consistency of data used across various operational systems. Inventory data helps reduce stockouts and overstock situations, optimizing supply chain operations. Similarly, consistent customer data can streamline customer service processes, reducing the time and effort required to resolve customer issues.

Data reconciliation and harmonization

MDM helps organizations reconcile data from disparate sources, confirming that data values are aligned and consistent. This harmonization reduces the complexity of data reconciliation processes. Reconciling customer data from various touchpoints such as online stores, physical locations and customer support systems can provide a unified view of the customer, supporting data-driven decisions and personalized service.

Advanced analytics and personalization

MDM supports advanced analytics and personalized customer experiences by providing high-quality, consistent data. Master data enables organizations to generate meaningful insights, identify trends and make informed decisions. Customer data helps in segmenting customers based on their preferences and behaviors, enabling targeted marketing campaigns and personalized product recommendations.

Master data management tools

Master data management tools automate data integration, cleansing, reconciliation and governance for business-critical entities such as customers, products, suppliers and locations. The functionalities of MDM tools can significantly enhance data quality, operational efficiency and strategic decision-making.

Key functions of MDM tools:

Data integration

Consolidation of data from disparate sources, both internal and external. For example, customer data may be gathered from sales, marketing and customer service systems, while product data may be collected from inventory, manufacturing and e-commerce platforms. By integrating this data, MDM tools eliminate silos and provide a more holistic view.

Data cleansing

Data from various sources often contains errors, inconsistencies and duplications. MDM tools use sophisticated algorithms and rules to identify and rectify these issues, verifying the master data's reliability. If a customer's information appears differently in separate systems due to typographical errors or formatting discrepancies, MDM tools can standardize the data and merge duplicate records to create a single profile.

Data standardization

These tools standardize data formats and values, maintaining consistency across different systems and business units. Standardization ensures that data is comparable and usable across various applications and business processes.

Data reconciliation and enrichment

Reconciliation involves aligning data from different sources to promote consistency and correctness. Enrichment consists of enhancing the data with additional information to increase its value and usability. An MDM tool might enrich product data with additional attributes such as detailed specifications, images and marketing descriptions, making it more useful for various business functions like sales, marketing and customer service.

Governance frameworks

Governance is a key component of MDM tools, guaranteeing that data management practices adhere to established policies and standards. These tools provide frameworks for defining data governance rules, monitoring compliance and managing data quality. This is particularly important in regulated industries where data accuracy and consistency are critical for compliance with legal and regulatory requirements.

Hierarchy management

MDM tools support hierarchy management to maintain organizational structures and relationships. This functionality helps manage complex data relationships and ensure that data reflects real-world structures.

Integration capabilities

MDM tools offer robust integration capabilities, allowing them to work seamlessly with other enterprise systems like ERP and CRM. This integration guarantees that master data is consistently used across all critical business applications, enhancing operational coherence and efficiency.

Audit and version control

MDM tools include audit and version control features to track changes and maintain data integrity over time. These features establish transparency and accountability, enabling businesses to monitor data changes, understand data lineage and maintain compliance with data governance policies.

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