What is master data?

According to The DAMA Guide to the Data Management Body of Knowledge, master data represents "data about the business entities that provide context for business transactions."

Gartner defines master data as "the consistent and uniform set of identifiers and extended attributes that describes the core entities of the enterprise including customers, prospects, citizens, suppliers, sites, hierarchies and chart of accounts."

Next generation Master Data Management (MDM), ensures that master data is updated and available in real-time across multiple systems in the business.

Why is master data important?

Elements of master data change frequently with the proliferation of information from various data sources and to get the true benefit of your data, you need master data management. It helps build a trusted master data foundation by creating a single source of truth in real-time diverse sources and feeding it across various downstream applications.

Unified, trusted, and real-time master data drives operational performance and positive business outcomes. And with the benefits of master data management, your business outcomes will be even more favorable.

What are the types of master data?
  • People: Customers, prospects, employees, members, healthcare providers, vendors, supplier data, and other parties important to your business.
  • Product: Product master data includes finished goods, assets, parts, and materials. Assets can be tangible such as equipment, buildings, devices, and intangible such as patents, trademarks, contracts, and other product data.
  • Places: Locations of stores, warehouses, factories, delivery points, or other sites.
  • Financial and Organizational Master Data: Business units, profit centers, organizational structure, financial regulations, and other related information used in reporting and modeling.
  • Reference Data: Slow-moving subset of master data used to classify other data. Reference data has a set of permissible values to be used by other data fields, such as country codes, SIC codes, currencies, measurement units, or financial hierarchies. See Reference Data Management for more information.
Is master data the same as a "golden record"?

A golden record is a single, well-defined, most accurate, most comprehensive, and complete version of all the data entities in an organizational ecosystem.

When managed in a Master Data Management (MDM) technology system, master data is often referred to as a "golden record."

Is master data a single source of truth?

Single source of truth is a concept applied to information management to ensure that all enterprise users access and use the same data to power business decisions.

Master data is also known as the single source of truth for enterprise data. An effective MDM provides a single source of truth to drive efficient business operations and accurate analytics.

Reltio Connected Data Platform, our next-generation cloud master data management platform, delivers a single source of truth for data by continuously, unifying data from a range of internal, external, and third-party sources, references, transactions, and interactions in real-time.

Who uses master data?

All the members of all the teams in an organization use master data for their tasks.

Defining master data is the first step to following any master data management best practices, says Gartner. “It is the responsibility of CIOs or CDOs to clearly define what master data is and which parts of it will be most impactful to the business,” says Mr. Moran, the research director at Gartner.

IT and data stewards manage master data and configure the MDM system according to master data management trends. Meanwhile, business users or managers use master data for reporting and driving decisions. On the other hand, business analysts and data scientists use master data in analytics to deliver recommendations,  forecasts, and assist in creating a master data management strategy.

Role Activity
Chief Information Officer or Chief Data Officer Define master data.
Data Steward Discover, clean, maintain, and manage master data for day-to-day use.
Data Governor Define, implement, and manage policies for master data management and master data governance.
IT / Technical Team member Configure, administer, and customize master data management system.
Compliance Manager Use master data to drive regulatory compliance activities.
Data Quality officer Use master data to drive enterprise data quality, and discover opportunism to improve master data quality.
Business Users from Sales, Marketing, Finance, HR, and other teams Use master data in operations and transactions to drive business objectives. Review master data to find opportunities to improve data quality.
Data Analyst / Business Analyst Use master data with historical, reporting data, and any other critical data to understand the business needs and discover improvement opportunities.
Data Scientist Use master data to deliver recommendations for optimized business decisions.
What is the difference between master data and transactional data?

Transactional data is the information directly captured from transactions. It relates to an internal or external event and can be any business process, including financial or logistical processing. Transactional data is derived from transactions, while master data provides context to transactions.

Transactional data has a time dimension and may lose its relevance over time. Master data, on the other hand, has no time dimension and changes less often.

Master data Transactional data
Data about the business entities Data captured in transactions
Uniquely identifies each business entity Uniquely identifies each transaction
Describes entities Describes events
Provides context to transactions Derived from transactions
Does not change over transactions Different for each transaction
Can be the result of a transaction, such as when a customer initiates a change of address Is always a result of a transaction
Provides context to reporting and analytics Used in reporting and analytics
Maintaining consistency is a challenge Managing volume efficiently is a challengeUse master data with historical and reporting data to understand the business needs and discover improvement opportunities.

Master data is essential for successful transactions. For trusted reporting and analytics, both master data and transactional data must be of high quality.

How does master data compare with metadata?

Gartner defines metadata as the information that describes various facets of an information asset to improve its usability throughout its life cycle. Metadata converts data into an information asset by providing an understanding of data.

Metadata describes the what, when, and why of data to use it effectively. Master data describes the business entities to use them effectively in transactions and operations.

Master Data Metadata
Data about the business entities Data about information assets
Shared standard definitions of business data Shared standard definitions of information assets
Types include people, products, places, financial and organizational data, and reference data Types include business metadata, technical metadata, and operational metadata
Provides context to transactions Provides context to data
Drives operational consistency Unlocks the value of data

Both master data and metadata ensure operational consistency across the enterprise, driving data quality and governance. Collaboration between business users and IT optimizes the value delivered by both master data and metadata.

Master Data Management (MDM) is closely associated with metadata management, and organizational data strategy often considers both together.

What is the difference between master data and reference data?

So, how do you determine what is master data vs. reference data? Reference data is the non-volatile slow-moving subset of master data used to classify other data. Examples of reference data include product codes, measurement units, and tax rates.

The internal reference data, such as product codes, is defined by the organization and shared with partners, vendors, and customers to ensure consistent use. The external reference data, such as tax rates, is defined by the country or industry-specific bodies.

Master data Reference Data
Data about the business entities A subset of master data used to classify other data
Shared standard definitions of business data Shared standard values of specific fields
Types include people, products, places, financial and organizational data, and reference data Types include internal and external reference data
Can change when business entities change, get added, or removed Can change when business entities change, get added, or removed
Changes only when categories update due to transformation in the business model or the industry standards
Changes in master data are managed by the existing business processes Changes in reference data values may need associated changes in business processes

Both provide context to transactions and drive data quality. Organizations typically manage master and reference data together to deliver operational efficiency.