Master data: easier said than done

The challenge of ‘mastering’ customer data has been troubling publishers for many years now. It comes in various different guises (‘CRM’, ‘single customer view’, ‘master data management’) but the essential aim is the same: to create a complete 360° view of each customer which is both comprehensive and trusted to be accurate. And the benefits are huge: better understanding, better customer comms, and ultimately more sales.

But the challenge isn’t trivial. For publishers, customer data is always siloed within different best-of-breed systems: for handling article submissions, for managing subscriptions, for hosting content online, and so on. And the data within those various systems is rarely consistent or clean, so the work of aggregating and connecting all of that customer data is a major challenge in itself… even before any ‘mastering’ rules for identifying the best name, email, address, etc. for each customer can be applied.

Blurred vision

To make matters even more complicated, the concepts of ‘master database’ and ‘aggregated view’ are often blurred together. It’s assumed that the solution is a new database which will effectively be “one ring to rule them all” – a system which can aggregate core info from everywhere else, whilst also allowing staff to add and edit those master records directly.

But that conflation of ‘master’ and ‘aggregated’ brings with it a huge amount of complexity: how can a system create the most accurate view of each customer from many different sources, whilst also being one of those sources? How will a staff member feel if they enter a new email for a customer directly into the ‘master’ system, only to see it changed hours later, not by a colleague but by a business rule? (Hint: “Argh! I entered that because I wanted it to stay there!”) That’s the reality of combining ‘master’ and ‘aggregated’ into a single system, and for that reason it’s an approach which is often discussed but rarely implemented.

A better way

There is, we think, a better way. Let the live systems each do what they’re best at (including a marketing database among them) and add a specialist read-only ‘aggregator’ solution on top, with the sole purpose of cleaning and mastering everything else – without the conflict of interest of having to maintain its own version of the truth in the mix. This plays each system to their strengths, and enables complete freedom and flexibility within the ‘mastering’ logic.

That is, of course, exactly what we provide with MasterVision. The fact that over 20 publishers are already using it so successfully suggests it’s an extremely effective way to tackle this difficult challenge.