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Not all data is equal ......

In my line of work I often spend a lot of time talking with a lot of people about 'data' specifically 'master data' as time has gone on I have realised that on many occasions the people I am talking to have no idea as to the difference between Master Data and other forms of data.

In a world increasingly full of 'data' its no wonder that organisations loose their way. We are bombarded by 'data', 'big data', 'Master Data' and how all of this 'data' can change our lives and revolutionise our businesses.

Is it important to understand the difference? I think it is. Master Data is slightly different to other types of data it's the 'core' data on which an organisations ERP is based. You are basically describing your product, assets, services and people (Customers / Suppliers). It's usually low volume very precise sets of data. It takes time and resource to manage Master Data well - you really don't want to be managing 'big data' volumes.

If we take a Formula 1 car, there will be tyres, the body work , engine etc. The core descriptive information almost a recipe for building a drivable car. The information will only change if a part needs replacing, those same elements will appear in many cars. The whole organisation will be referencing this same information. Its relatively low volume. This IS your Master Data.

However during a race the engineers are collecting a whole host of information relating to the cars performance. It's constantly changing and there are vast quantities of information being recorded - this is NOT your Master Data.

The two are not mutually exclusive but how you handle them is different. Without the Master Data you have nothing to monitor. If an engine has been replaced and not recorded it could result in issues in servicing and financially the impact could be missing from the financial records, maybe the supplier doesn't get paid. Therefore you 'manage' and maintain this 'data' . You don't however rely on this information to decide the settings required to run the car in the wet - thats where your metrics come in.

Both sets of information are important to an organisation and this is sometimes where the confusion arises as Master Data is often defined as 'critical' data. Master Data also helps drive reporting as does the metrics, again this creates confusion "we want it in our reports therefore it has to be Master Data". This is where stepping back and asking a few key questions "is it repeatable / re usuable?", "is it static changing rarely and only under control?", "will many users rely on that same information?" if the answer is yes then it's Master Data.