Grow your margins with SQL Server Master Data Services

Implementing SQL Server Master Data Services is only one of the many opportunities, such as managing master data and setting up alerts, that VARs have available to increase their margins using this tool.

Today's economic uncertainty has made it imperative for VARs to look for creative ways to bolster their revenues. One often overlooked possibility is to take advantage of opportunities related to Web services components in general, and SQL Server Master Data Services in particular.

Master Data Services is a SQL Server 2008 R2 component designed to ensure data consistency across an organization that uses multiple databases with redundant data. A good candidate for Master Data Services is a customer who uses three different applications tied to three separate databases -- all of which contain contact information for their customers.

Any time redundant data is spread across multiple databases, the data is bound to fall out of sync. For example, when a customer’s clients change their addresses, the data might get updated in one database but not in another. SQL Server Master Data Services are designed to solve this problem by creating a central pool of authoritative master data that can be shared among multiple applications.

Customer implementation of Master Data Services
It’s easy to see how Master Data Services might help improve an organization’s efficiency, but how can it help VARs improve their margins? The most obvious way that a VAR can profit from the Master Data Services is through customer implementation.

Although it’s simple to get Master Data Services up and running, implementation in a production environment can be a big job, which is great for VARs that charge by the hour. Organizations must determine which data should be treated as master data, and then they must bring that data into the Master Data Services. Once the master data is in place, database applications may need to be reconfigured to use it. Furthermore, VARs need to work with their customers to establish policies regarding how master data is to be used and who can update it.

What VARs can do beyond Master Data Services implementation
Although VARs can profit from implementing the Master Data Services on behalf of their customers, implementation is only the beginning. As customers begin using master data, they will likely discover that managing master data is too much to handle by themselves. In these types of situations, VARs may be able to assist their customers by setting up notification-based work flows.

Suppose your customer decided to sell a new product, for example. The product manager might be able to add the new product to the database, but there might be additional information required before the organization can begin selling the product. Because the product manager probably wouldn’t be the one who decides on pricing for the new product, a workflow could streamline the process.

When the product manager adds a new product to the database, a notification could be sent to the finance manager alerting him or her that pricing needs to be established for the product. Once the finance manager sets the pricing, a notification could be sent automatically to the inventory control department so that it could place an initial order for the product and update the inventory levels.

As you can see, workflows have the potential to streamline customer’s businesses, but keep in mind that your customers may not even know that notification-based workflows exist — much less how to implement them. If you want to capitalize on this feature, then you may have to show your customers inefficiencies in their businesses that they didn’t even know existed.

Taking advantage of multi-application capabilities
Another way that VARs can capitalize on their customers’ use of the Master Data Services is by taking advantage of the tool’s multi-application capabilities. The master data is used to service a variety of applications and, therefore, contains far more database fields than what are required by any single application. It may be, however, that an existing database application could be modified to take advantage of master data that wasn’t previously available to that application.

Suppose another customer was a fitness center, which tends to make most of its money by requiring members to sign up for long-term contracts. The customer could use a database-driven application that performs financial projections, such as contract expirations, average renewal percentages and projected new business. Maybe it has another application designed to send out advertisements to former members who didn’t renew their contracts.

The second application could be easily modified to pull future contract expiration dates from the master data and send advertisements to members whose contracts are about to expire as a way of enticing them to sign up for another term. Your pitch can be that it’s better for them to keep customers from leaving in the first place than to try to win them back after they are gone.

These are just some examples of how master data that was used for a single application could potentially be beneficial in other applications. With a little imagination and some knowledge of customer needs, VARs can find creative ways to use -- and profit from -- master data.

About the expert
Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a six-time recipient of Microsoft's Most Valuable Professional award for his work with Exchange Server, Windows Server, Internet Information Services, file systems and storage. Posey has served as CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once responsible for the Department of Information Management at Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer, he has written for Microsoft, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Posey's website at www.brienposey.com.

This was first published in April 2011

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