If your customers use multiple database-driven applications, they probably suffer from inconsistent data problems within those databases. You can help your customers address the inaccuracies and inconsistencies within their databases by introducing them to SQL Server 2008 R2's Master Data Services.
The Master Data Services are designed to resolve inconsistent data within an organization. Customer data seems to be the most common example of inconsistent data.
Where Master Data Services fit into your customer's environment
I would equate inconsistent data to a mail-order company updating its sales database but not its shipping department's database if a customer changes an address. The Master Data Services are designed to prevent this situation from happening by forming a central repository of authoritative data. The mail-order company can then use this data in every department in a consistent manner.
Implementing the Master Data Services is usually fairly intensive and is a potential business opportunity because you will likely have to assist your customers with the process. Implementation also involves communicating with end users to determine which data should be used as master data, which is no easy feat.
So how can a solution provider determine what should be used as master data? The process usually begins by looking for database overlap. For example, your customer's marketing database and sales database may both contain separate copies of the same customer contact information. This type of information is a prime candidate for inclusion in the Master Data Services.
Master Data Services considerations
An important aspect to consider is data relevancy. A customer's SQL database may hold sales records from 1973 in multiple databases, for example, but because the information isn't relevant, it doesn't make sense to include it in a master database,
Another crucial consideration is how frequently the data is modified because you generally don't want to include highly transactional data in a master data set. Your customer's inventory system is a classic example of the type of fluid data that is accessed on multiple systems. That's not the type of data you want within the Master Data Services because inventory quantities constantly change.
Of course that isn't to say that other product information shouldn't be included in the Master Data Services. Retailers tend to carry a relatively static product line. They may occasionally add or discontinue products but the product line remains mostly consistent. Because of this, product data is often a good thing to include in a master data set.
Using static data is important because Master Data Services are designed to act as a singular data source for the entire organization. Even though the Master Data Services do not lock your customers into using solely static (archive) data, their data maintenance procedures may be foreign to you.
SQL Server provides a Web portal through which data is entered or modified. Because it is important to maintain the data's integrity, a user is designated as a steward of the data and maintaining the data becomes that person's responsibility.
Because creating a master data set is such a large task, you will want to ensure that your customer receives the greatest possible benefit from your work. , On way that can be accomplished is by creating a master data set as an excuse to align data from multiple departments.
Suppose, for example, that your customer owned a car dealership that has a leased vehicle database. Imagine how the dealership's marketing team could benefit from being able to determine whose leases are expiring in the next six months. If you have customers who are reluctant to implement the master data services, then you may be able to convince them by explaining how aligning data from multiple departments could increase sales.
Incidentally, you aren't just limited to including data that is currently located within SQL databases. You can even go so far as to ask the end users if they have data stored in Excel spreadsheets that might be useful for inclusion in a master data set.
The process of assembling a master data set can be extremely cumbersome for solution providers. Even so, going ahead and creating a master data set can be extremely beneficial to your customers because it will help them to ensure that their most important data remains consistent across the entire organization.
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.