People have multiple phone numbers and multiple email addresses and in 2022 there must be several decades of historic contact information available for any one person. Most of us move at least once, every few years. Sometimes we go by different nicknames in different situations, some people even change their names. We hold different titles throughout the course of our careers and we change companies every few years. Only a few people in our lives know exactly how to get a hold of us, at any given time. Many of us change vehicles just as often as we change our hair color. Many of us are employees, most of us are also customers, many of us are spouses and sometimes we are grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and children at the same time. Sometimes we’re out enjoying ourselves and sometimes we just want to be left alone. We each have unique interests and desires, but we also have many things in common with other groups of people.
Products have many different descriptions, they come in many different variations, different sizes, different colors, and different packaging materials. Similar products are often manufactured by different manufacturers, and they can be purchased from many different commercial outlets, at different price points. Any one product on the market at any one time will likely be available in several variations, but that product will also likely change over time as the manufacturer makes improvements. Products can be purchased therefore they can also be sold. They can also be returned or resold to other buyers, so there are different conditions and ways to determine product value. There are SKU and UPC numbers and other official product identification and categorization systems including UNSPSC and others, but none of them speak the same language.
Companies are made up of many different people who come and go over time. The company may change names or change ownership. It may have multiple locations which means multiple addresses and phone numbers, and they probably offer many different ways to contact them. Depending on where you look, there are probably more than a dozen different ways to find their contact information, but only some of those company listings will be correct. Companies have tax IDs and Employer IDs and DUNS IDs in the US, and there are many different systems worldwide.
Addresses are the systems we use to identify locations. Each country and territory has its own system so each system is different. In the US we use premise numbers, street names with and without street prefixes and suffixes, we use unit numbers, states, counties, cities, towns and 5 and 9 digital numerical postal codes. Addresses and address systems can change over time, and they are inherently one of the most inconsistent forms of identification. Addresses are usually riddled with errors, misspellings, different structures and formatting, and they can be very difficult to work with. What makes this even more difficult is that the same address represented in multiple internal business systems will often be represented differently, and will rarely match the way the same address is represented externally.
Data is a digital description of all of these things. Data usually comes in columns and rows and all shapes and sizes. Data about these things is captured, stored in business systems and it’s used to get work done. Need to call a contact? Check your contact data. Need to know a company’s billing address? Check your company data. Need to know something about a product? Check your product information. Need to know something about where your customers live and work or where to deliver the product? Check your address information. But here’s the thing: the information rarely matches from system to system and it’s very hard to keep up to date. This is especially difficult for a few reasons. Internally your company probably has many different business systems and many different ways of storing and representing these things, so it rarely matches internally, plus, the way that your company stores and represents this information will almost never match external information. How can you know the best way to contact your customer who has multiple phone numbers and multiple email addresses? If you’re searching some external system for updated information about some product or contact and the information doesn’t match, how do you find the new information? How can you know if your own information is correct and up to date? How can you scale your efforts to communicate with hundreds or thousands of customers at a time, communicating information that is specifically relevant for each of them? If the information doesn’t match or is not correct, how can you know who is who?
The relationships across people, other groups of people, products, other groups of products, companies, other groups of companies, addresses, and other addresses, is where the rubber hits the road. Business value comes from connecting companies and products or services with other people and companies, and other products and services, at scale. Customers purchasing products might be interested in purchasing related products. Customers often buy things based on location. Companies selling to customers might be able to sell more, if they target similar customers in similar locations. Products and services also sell well based on location, and companies can optimize sales territories and delivery routes based on the relative proximity to other locations.
People and Technology
The people and technology between all of this, finds it difficult to keep up. People do things one by one and we’re good with ambiguity. We program computers and business systems to do things faster. Computers do things programmatically and very quickly but they’re not good with ambiguity. People can see similarity between things that are similar, but computers and business systems cannot. People might be good with troubleshooting and critical thinking, but computers and business systems are not. A computer program might be able to find the same customer in multiple systems and might be able to update that customer’s information all at once, but how can you know if the new information is the best information? Knowing that your customer probably has multiple phone numbers and multiple addresses and multiple nicknames, how can you know which information is correct? Doing this at scale can be very, very difficult.
Master Data Management is very difficult but it’s fundamental in scaling your business. People can sell products door-to-door, but data and technology allow us to market, sell, deliver, and service our products and services, to tens and hundreds of thousands of people in milliseconds, regardless of the distance. Most organizations still view data as a cost of doing business but with the right investments in people, process, technology, and in data management, we can scale as worldwide organizations.