The Pros, Cons, and Inevitability of Unified Data Management

An overwhelming majority of organizations expect to transition to a unified data management-like approach over the next three years.

If your organization doesn't have a unified data management (UDM) strategy, there's a good chance it will, and sooner than you think.

According to a new survey from TDWI Research, an overwhelming majority of organizations expect to transition to a UDM-like approach over the next three years.

On its face, UDM seems like a no-brainer. It prescribes a mix of people, process, and technological to treat the information overload faced by many organizations.

Siloing remains the name of the game, in spite of the best-laid plans of data management (DM) pros, to say nothing of the much-hyped promises of data integration (DI) and other DM tool vendors. UDM, which some vendors like to call enterprise information management (EIM) or enterprise data management (EDM), promises to bring order to information chaos.

That's been promised before, of course. What's different this time around, notes Philip Russom, senior manager at TDWI Research, is that both DM vendors and their clients seem (finally) to be speaking the same language.

One upshot of this is a new (and largely unprecedented) kind of collaboration and interoperability between data management (DM) teams and business users or stakeholders, to say nothing of DM-related technologies.

"[UDM] unifies disparate data disciplines and their technical solutions. On an organizational level, it also unifies the teams that design and deploy such solutions. The unification may simply involve greater collaboration among technical teams, or it may involve the consolidation of teams, perhaps into a data management competency center," writes Russom, in his new report, Unified Data Management: A Collaboration of Data Disciplines and Business Strategies.

In addition to its technical ramifications (or its potential to boost collaboration between business and IT), UDM could and should be a boon to the business itself, Russom writes: "Technology aside, UDM also forces a certain amount of unification among business people, as they come together to better define strategic business goals and their data requirements. When all goes well, a mature UDM effort unifies both technical and business teams through IT-to-business alignment germane to data management."

UDM by Any Other Name

Some shops are already practicing UDM -- or using UDM-like concepts. For one thing, Russom notes, many shops already practice a kind of data management that's a lot more UDM-like than they realize.

For example, a combined 27 percent of respondents employ a DM methodology that "involves technical people of diverse disciplines learning from each other, complying with data and development standards, considering cross-discipline architectures, and … other best practices … associate[d] with UDM."

Moreover, Russom continues, about a quarter of shops have already embarked on an explicit UDM strategy, albeit UDM by another name, such as EIM and EDM. There are a few reasons for this. First, a pair of vendors (the former Business Objects SA, now an SAP AG company, and DataFlux, a subsidiary of SAS) have been strong proponents of EIM and EDM, respectively.

Second, although UDM has an explicit technical dimension, it's less explicitly technological than, say, ETL, data quality (DQ), master data management (MDM), or other traditional DM disciplines. It's thusly less vendor-specific, Russom observes. This means that regardless of their vendor affiliations, a sizeable number of shops have already gravitated toward a UDM-like orientation.

"Most UDM work involves collaboration among data management professionals of varying specialties -- such as data integration, quality, master data, etc.," he writes. "The collaboration fosters cross-solution data and development standards, interoperability of multiple data management solutions, and a grander concept of data and data management architectures."

What's more, Russom continues, it's relatively easy to step up to UDM. For one thing, a host of players -- vendors such as ASG, DataFlux, Informatica, SAP, Talend, Teradata, and Trillium Software (which collectively sponsored Russom's report), along with IBM Corp., Oracle Corp., and other DM competitors -- now market branded UDM offerings. Furthermore, because of UDM's distinct emphasis on best practices, shops can start by taking an iterative, practice- or process-based approach to unified data management.

As Russom aptly puts it, "UDM is a matter of degree. … [I]t's unlikely that any organization would want or need to coordinate 100 percent of its data management work via UDM or anything similar." It makes a lot more sense to pick one's battles -- or opportunities -- when it comes to UDM-ification, he continues.

"[O]rganizations [can] opportunistically select combinations of data management practices whose coordination and collaboration will yield appreciable benefits," he writes. "The most common combinations are pairs, as with data integration and data quality or data governance and master data management."

Russom says that "Over time, an organization may extend the reach of UDM by coalescing these pairs and adding in secondary, supporting data management disciplines, such as metadata management, data modeling, and data profiling. Hence, the scope of UDM tends to broaden over time into a more comprehensive enterprise practice. And the scope can get rather broad."

A UDM Practice in Every Enterprise Pot

Just how likely is pervasive UDM-ification? TDWI and Russom put its odds at just shy of a lead-pipe cinch. "Survey results show that user organizations are indeed coordinating diverse data management practices today," Russom says, conceding that such coordination "is at a moderate, low, or very low level."

Slightly more than 10 percent of shops are today pursuing DM coordination at a "high" or "very high" level, he acknowledges.

That's poised to change, however. By 2013, 90 percent of shops expect to be coordinating their data management activities at "moderate," "high," or "very high" levels. "The survey shows that UDM indeed exists and some form of it is already practiced in the majority of organizations surveyed. Cross-team coordination and collaboration are base requirements for UDM, which also has loftier goals in IT-to-business alignment," he concludes.

"Users, on the whole, are already doing this at a moderate level and plan to move up to a high level within three years. This means growth for UDM, which in turn should amount to firmer support for data-driven business goals."

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