SAP users, analysts, seek master data management answers

SAP is working to increase the number of customers using SAP Master Data Management, but customers and analysts say little information is available about the software.

LAS VEGAS -- SAP's Shai Agassi told attendees at the SAP TechEd 2006 conference this week that the path to a service-oriented architecture should begin with gaining control of the company's master data.

"Everything else we talk about will not make any sense whatsoever if you don't have your list of truths in place,"

said Agassi, who serves as president of SAP's product and technology group. "You have to do that and if you haven't done that, you're behind the curve."

But SAP customers and industry analysts say SAP is still trying to build momentum around its fledgling master data management software. For companies looking to standardize on SAP, they say SAP MDM is the obvious choice, but many customers are still finding more robust features in independent MDM vendors.

Jeff W. Benton, of IBM Global Services, said he is considering putting together a consulting team around SAP Master Data Management. But a lack of information, best practices and available training from SAP has Benton waiting.

"I'm sure this is a case of a technology that needs time to mature," Benton said. "It's very difficult to find the customers using the software."

The customer base is quietly increasing, according to Sunil Gupta, director of SAP MDM product marketing. Gupta points to Ericsson, Nortel Networks and The Home Depot as examples of companies currently undergoing successful MDM projects. He didn't provide any customer numbers.

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Kraft Foods is among the latest customers undergoing MDM projects. Gupta said that customers are turning to SAP because competing MDM products don't scale and have performance issues.

SAP customers that have MDM projects under way are still choosing specialists for the job, according to analysts. Brewster, Mass.-based BackOffice Associates; Irvine, Calif.-based Optimo Systems; and Dallas-based i2 have layered MDM products that add customer data synchronization capabilities. SAP recently added support for customer data.

"It's still unclear exactly who is using SAP MDM and how much satisfaction they're getting out of the software," said Ray Wang, a principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

Susan Barber, a business system manager at a U.S.-based company, said her firm is beginning a massive decade-long SAP MDM project. Barber said one of the struggles is getting all of the data owners within the company to relax their grip on the company data. Barber added that one of her biggest challenges is finding people skilled enough to lead an SAP MDM project.

"When you centralize your data and undergo MDM, there are many business processes that also have to change," Barber said. "You're streamlining your interfaces and making your systems more plug-and-play for the future."

Achieving a consensus on data governance and strategy is important, according to Gupta.

SAP also plans to use its composite application strategy to add industry-specific functionality to its MDM software, Gupta said. According to Gupta, two independent software vendors are partnering with SAP to develop and sell xApps for MDM targeting the oil and gas and telecommunications industries.

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