Master Data Management (MDM): A Key Ingredient for Effective Security Programs

Building a security program without knowing what you are securing is a fool’s folly. An inventory of assets is a necessary first step towards a comprehensive enterprise risk program. Assets can either be physical (such as laptops, server racks, offices) or digital (software, data, reports). Master Data Management (MDM) is the methodology to catalog data assets and their corresponding relationship across databases, applications and object stores. Master data is information that is paramount to effectively running your business. It is data that tends to be used by multiple departments and fuels decision making. There are plenty of examples of master data, including employee data, customer data and supplier data. To help you understand the concept though, let’s focus on one specific type: customer information. Customer information tends to include personal identifiable information like names, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth and more. There’s no need to explain how valuable customer data is – it’s a given for marketing and sales. However, all too often, customer data is stored sporadically in digital silos across the enterprise. This can make customer interactions disjointed and lead to lost opportunities for a business. Cue master data management to the rescue. Master data management (MDM) is a process that aims to break down these business silos and bring consistency, accuracy and accountability to the master data sets that organizations store and produce. Second to this, MDM is about creating better business outcomes, by streamlining disparate data sets into one centralized repository that can be easily accessed and updated. MDM is a popular strategy among organizations of all sizes. According to Gartner’s 2021 MDM Magic Quadrant, organizations create an MDM strategy to create internal/operational efficiencies (69%), to improve business process outcomes (59%), and to improve business process agility (54%). As well as these benefits, MDM also has a huge role to play in effective security, as we’ll explore below.

The security benefits of MDM 

Meet compliance obligations: Since the arrival of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), data protection has become a central focus for US businesses. For example, creating a data flow map is required under Article 30 of the GDPR, and is the first step of the Data Protection Impact Assessment process. When used correctly, MDM helps organizations keep track of their data, while also providing assurance to auditors and the supply chain that data is being stored and used responsibly. Prevent data breaches: According to IBM, the cost of enterprise data breaches has increased by 10% in recent years. The first step of protecting your data is knowing where it is located – which is exactly what MDM is for. Bring structure to chaos: MDM enables companies to create clearly defined data policies. This ensures that data can only be used and accessed by the correct departments and people, which brings us onto our next point… Harness the power of authentication: A good MDM solution will feature user authentication protocols. Built on the principle of zero trust, these ensure that only verified users can access certain sets of data, which prevents insider threats.

Is your organization ready for MDM?

While MDM clearly promises a wealth of benefits to organizations, it will only work for your company if you’re at the right stage of maturity. To determine whether you are at this stage, consider the below factors: 1. Readiness: According to Gartner, “MDM initiatives often fail when organizations don’t ensure organizational readiness before starting…They treat all data as equal and fail to identify and prioritize their master data.” There’s two takeaways here. Firstly, you need to assess your company’s analytics capabilities, to see if you’re ready to implement MDM. Second, start your MDM program on a small scale – focusing on a single set of master data, rather than attempting to organize everything at once. 2. The right fit: While MDM is the eventual answer for many organizations, it may not be the right one now. Think about what you are trying to achieve with MDM. For example, if customer data is your overarching problem, then a CRM solution may be more suitable in the short term, while MDM is the longer term goal. 3. Lay the foundations: If you feel hesitant about adopting MDM right now, then you can still take proactive steps to start laying the right foundations, such as mapping out your data sources and setting up a governance committee. As well as this, consider tools like data loss prevention (DLP) to map, classify and control sensitive data.

A five step strategy for MDM 

MDM doesn’t happen with a click of the fingers. It can take months to perfect your strategy – and it then needs to be reviewed on an ongoing basis. To get you started, here are the first steps at a high level.
  1. Planning: Discover and define your data, as well as establish the governance and policies that will enable secure, efficient usage of it.
  2. Mapping: Use mapping techniques – as explained in this blog post – to consolidate your data.
  3. Deployment: Look for an MDM software solution that is scalable and intuitive to use.
  4. Cultural awareness: Reinforce your MDM solution with training sessions and nudges to ensure data is being shared correctly.
  5. Monitor and review: Regularly review your MDM program to ensure it is kept up-to-date in line with internal changes and the regulatory landscape.
Of course, without the right support in place, these steps can feel a little overwhelming. This is why we advocate working with an end-to-end MDM partner, who can help you with planning, locating, consolidating and securing your master data. As a next-generation DLP provider, Polymer has the data classification and management expertise to help you get a handle on your data – even as it travels through cloud applications and collaboration tools. With real-time redaction capabilities and alert capabilities, we can bring structure and visibility to your data sets, so security is one less thing you have to worry about.

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