IRM MDM DG Europe - Field Report

By Michael Hiskey, Chief Marketing Officer at Semarchy

Field Report

The IRM MDM DG Europe Conference, often referred to as the MDM & DG Summit, concluded last week in London. This is the 12th annual conference, which features industry analysts, vendors and practitioners over a three-day period. This “Field Report” is an attempt to share my thoughts on the conference overall and its relevance to enterprise information management.

2 Conferences in 1?

Billed by IRM UK as “Europe’s only co-located MDM & Data Governance Conferences,” this is quite clearly one conference with two tracks. Personally I found the division confusing, as DG & MDM are two sides of the same coin; Governance is more the practices and MDM the discipline and technology. As “delegates can attend sessions at either conference” and everything is shared between the two, there is not much distinction to speak of.  Among the MDM devotees, the “MDM Summit” is generally referred to as “the Aaron Zornes Conference.”

The MDM/DG topic combination did lead to interesting conversations with attendees on which concepts fall under Information Governance (generally a larger thought than Data), and which under MDM. There was a very strong European presence at the conference overall, although I believe that previously many saw this as UK-centric, given it is run by a UK Conference Provider. At some of the key European banks, Information Governance includes the Chief Data/Digital Officer role, security, privacy, etc.  Predictably, this led to deep conversations around GDPR, Brexit and its progression, and the substantiation of data in an increasingly regulation-rich environment.


There was a fairly active tweetstream with over 500 posts. IRM UK themselves had a lot to say, as did the 10 or so vendors that were actively involved and a solid group of delegates who tweeted about the proceedings.  A number of speakers were industry analysts, who tend to make their thoughts known on Twitter as well. I summarized the Twitter activity in a separate post you can find via Storify.

MDM Keynote Presentations

Aaron Zornes led the Keynote presentation on MDM, and had several presentations throughout the conference that held the bones of the MDM Summit thread through it. Starting with his top five observations, and then continuing through with top 10s and 20s:

  • MDM Market 2017-18 Facts vs Beliefs (a top 5 list)
  • Top 20 MDM vendors
  • Top 10 Master Data Governance (MDG) Vendors
  • Top 20 MDM Implementation Partners

These pieces, complied from his many Field Reports and Summaries, as well as numerous and sundry conversations with vendors, practitioners, service providers, etc. make his insights interesting and relevant to many in the audience.

The recent traction and expansion of vendors and projects across Europe gave comfort to many in the room that have invested their careers and fortunes in MDM (and Data Governance), as the market is strong and growing. Despite the impression by some that the MDM market is shrinking in favor of parallel Enterprise Information Management disciplines and technologies like analytics, business intelligence, data science etc, it was good to hear about growing investment in the space. Earlier this year, when Gartner sunset the MDM Summit and concatenated events across the EIM space, talk around the space was that interest in MDM was waning (more on this later).

The MDM space is getting more exciting, as the hum from big data, analytics and cloud technology rolls into a more consistent harmony. The most pressing challenges associated with massive volume and variety, Internet of Things (IoT) and the ever-present need to integrate data across silos lands squarely in the arena of Master Data Management. This has helped shake the dust off of what has been a sleepy market of late, as industry consolidation slowed a few years back, and mega-vendors have been slowly (and poorly) attempting to integrate disparate technologies with a single marketing message.

As alluded to in the Conference Opening, Aaron led off with the ‘top five’ facts versus beliefs in the MDM space:

  1. Multi-domain remains dogma, not practice
  2. Proactive Data Governance integration with MDM platforms remains conceptual, and requires lots of hard-coding
  3. Graph database is conceptually threatening MDM due to its ability to simplify complexity
  4. Microsoft is not a ‘no show’ to the MDM party
  5. MDM as a managed service is hot

As slightly more than half the market remains in the hands of mega-vendors, the first two are directed at them. Combined offerings stitched together with marketing do not count as an integrated offering. As much as analyst terms throw around the concepts of ‘hybrid’ and ‘multi-vector’ to describe some of these offerings, in many cases they are still separate underlying code bases. As models are built over top of them, they start to fill the gaps but that makes a rigid, bulky solution even bulkier, and doesn’t solve the core problem.

Graph database is a hot topic right now, and it’s also a core misconception. Strictly leveraging a graph database as an enterprise MDM solution creates development, design, and integration headaches. They require a fundamentally different data model – plus coding and language specific to graph.  To get through the hype on this: what MDM users need is graph-type analytics and visualizations, not graph database technology itself. Interactive graph analytics and visualizations of data can be surfaced atop systems that will smoothly integrate with existing componentry, co-existing peacefully with ERP, SCM, CRM etc systems in place. This is the antithesis of simplifying complexity, in my opinion.

Regarding Microsoft, as a technology watcher one may like them to be more involved in MDM. MDM is an add-on to the core SQL Server offering; however, they are not an innovator in this space.

MDM as a managed service is indeed hot – in much the same way as cloud-based infrastructures are enabling fast time-to-value across the business software landscape. Vendors have locked in to various SaaS models, enabling in many cases the business unit to gain the functionality they require while bypassing traditional IT departments. Some of those top-tier services firms in the MDM space are providing this kind of service with great affect. At the same time “Cloud MDM” should be a part of business as usual – just NOT the ONLY way it can be delivered.

In a more post-modern view of cloud software, I tend to take the stance as I heard from a client recently, “The Cloud is just another one of my data centers. I already had 6, it’s like the 7th.”  By and large, moving almost any major enterprise software from an on-premises installation into the cloud would go entirely unnoticed by business users, if done correctly. It is this goal any MDM administrator should have in mind, whether they pursue a managed offering or take it on themselves.

A rash of MDM solutions ONLY have a cloud offering. This can cause other issues as enterprise businesses would like freedom to manage their software (or pay for it to be managed) however they chose as they scale. Cloud-only offerings limit this flexibility, and challenge the agile requirements in place by world-class organizations regarding all of their enterprise data management offerings.

Aaron also takes the audience through his Field Report notes for the “Top 20” MDM vendors, with special commentary for the European audience, in alphabetical order. Commenting on 20 streams of enterprise software and along with details of how they have come to get there is a lot of content for a 45-minute session, and probably should have been broken down differently. At 2.3 minutes per solution, that’s not a great deal of time.

There are several solutions that are ‘end of life’, including some from mega-vendors. There are also some reports that due to the stayed nature of the vendor don’t change much year-to-year. While the specifics in the history around consolidation in the space is interesting, it likely doesn’t help the data-driven CIO looking to understand what the state of the art is today. Although, it can be confusing and somewhat amusing that Siperian and Hyperion (no relation to each other) were both acquired, by different companies, and are both part of less-than-stellarly integrated mega-vendor MDM software stacks today. For those solutions being sunset, it’d probably be best to just know that and move on.

New technology pushing the boundaries of MDM is more interesting, and Aaron stays on top of these solutions, giving them more focus in his work and summarizing what they have to offer in his reports. This becomes apparent when presenting the updated “Top 10 Evaluation Criteria for Next-Gen MDM.” Likely the kind of intelligence delegates came to see, this updated set of conditions and best practices to seek in an MDM solution will help any executive in that decision process.

In a world where well-run MDM is at the center of an organization’s data strategy, these criteria are exceedingly important. More than 10 discrete thoughts, there is a lot to understand within these standards. They include IoT/Big Data capabilities, machine learning and AI to streamline data stewardship, real-time capabilities, extreme scalability, integrated and collaborative governance, micro-service extensions/interfaces/integrations and flexible delivery, to name several.

Other analysts, including long-time UK speaker Mike Ferguson, were also on the agenda, and delved into depth on key topics. Alongside Aaron, Mike conducted a half-day workshop on day one of the event, that goes into much deeper detail, pertinent to practitioners in MDM and Data Governance.

GDPR and Brexit

Over the years I have been attending, speaking at, and sponsoring conferences in Europe. GDPR is great as an organizing principle, as it narrows the conversation on data privacy into a meaningful dialogue. It moves it from the usual boring privacy comparisons between the US and EU, and the occasional lawsuit against Google, to a sharp focus on what data is important and how it needs to be controlled for the benefit of the citizenry. GDPR gives what was a generic conversation a name, a focus, a direction and a date for compliance.

“Brexit doesn’t save the UK from GDPR” is a familiar refrain, owing to the fact that the May 2018 GDPR deadline will come before the UK breaks from the Union by some significant time – so it will become UK law as other EU regulations have done since they joined.

While every software vendor, industry analyst and consulting firm wants to be seen as the best solution for GDPR compliance, one thing is sure—GDPR is an MDM problem. Very good MDM will make compliance a straightforward process. Poor MDM will almost definitely hinder that endeavor. Watching this feels akin to the “Y2K bug” buzz from 1999. Vendors of all shapes and sizes see organizations spending money to solve a problem, and they’d like to be a part of the distribution.

MDM Summit vs Gartner Data & Analytics

As mentioned earlier, the Gartner conference collapsed down several EIM events, including the Gartner MDM Summit, into one show. As portrayed in my blog on that subject, that event is slowly evolving to specifically serve the CDO. For this reason, there was less focus on MDM overall. This made the MDM Summit refreshing in its concentration on the key needs for organizations selecting, growing, and curating master data, reference data, and data governance systems to be specific.

The Gartner event is of course larger, and seems to draw a higher proportion of senior executives. At the same time, a focus on brass-tacks advice (see above) and plain (proper British) English talks from deeply involved practitioners makes this a very useful conference.  The Gartner event certainly covers more thought-leading trends across the broader data spectrum; this event gives more practical tactics that can be applied in the near term.


It was an educational few days at the IRM MDM DG conference. While the MDM market continues to grow, the landscape is shifting towards new and more agile solutions. At the same time, conventional vendors have a high proportion of the installed clients and are holding on tightly. As the business benefits associated with offerings from innovative solutions become clearer, this space will continue to gain exposure—the biggest data problems in organizations are still MDM problems. As ability for data-driven professionals within the business to harness MDM more effectively makes them more successful, mastering all kinds of data touched by that organization will continue to increase in importance.

More Information

Does MDM Need Graph?