COVID-19 Crisis Exposes Flaws in Master Data Sets

Matt McGivern, Managing Director Data Management and Advanced Analytics

As leaders across all industries struggle with COVID-19 responses and business continuity planning, one simple lesson is becoming apparent – good data is key! One of the basic tenets in crisis management is frequent communication with clients, employees, vendors and other stakeholders but many organizations have struggled with this communication due to issues with the quality of their master data.

Master data is generally considered to be the authoritative list of key shared information within an organization. This data shouldn’t differ across sources within an organization – for example, the key attributes of customer data in the CRM system should match those in the accounting systems. Master data should be harmonized across these different platforms and should also be maintained to ensure it remains accurate over time.

Customer Data

Most companies are aware of the need to communicate with their clients about COVID-19-related service disruptions and updates about the business but may be struggling to do so effectively if there are data inconsistencies. The crisis has exposed accuracy and availability issues in key customer data sets, throwing hurdles in the way of quick customer outreach. Firms that have recurring relationships with clients (e.g., monthly billed services) often have a leg-up based on the frequency of interaction with those customers, but even they may have email or phone contact information that is outdated or of lesser quality. Other organizations that maintain relationships with their clients through frequent shopper or affinity cards may be unable to take advantage of this information at the moment because their customers are not shopping as frequently as before or are shopping at other retailers online. This has made it difficult to maintain the relationships and provide timely updates without a direct access to the customers, and has limited the effectiveness of marketing and other campaigns designed to help boost business either now or after the crisis.

Employee Data

Incomplete or inaccurate employee master data has emerged as another issue during this crisis. Employees are watching closely how their company handles communication and provides them with timely information and support at this time. While communications should emphasize employee safety, companies should also keep in mind that they may lose top employees to ambitious recruiters if slow or inefficient communication causes uncertainty and discontent during the crisis.

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The ability of a company to quickly contact its employees outside of the office by phone, email or mail to keep them informed depends directly on the quality of employee data. Often, employee data is only collected at the time of hire and not updated throughout the employment lifecycle. Further, many companies have switched to electronic deliveries of periodic documents, such as W-2s, and physical home addresses have fallen into disuse. However, in a crisis such as the current one, knowing where an employee lives can help companies understand the impacts of the employee’s local surroundings, such as regional shutdowns, governmental orders, availability of medical treatment or other regionalized impacts that may affect the wellbeing of an employee or his or her work, and proactively provide assistance or accommodation.

Vendor Data

Many firms have adopted special guidelines for vendors during the COVID-19 crisis, such as limited onsite visits and travel, and have set up remote service options. Companies must communicate these changes clearly to the impacted vendors and explain the alternatives. Additionally, being able to connect with key vendors quickly to understand supply chain impacts and challenges they are facing is also critical.

With vendors in the same flux as everyone, the contacts the company depends on at normal times, such as the desk numbers of the vendors’ sales teams, may not be the best contacts to provide or receive updated information. Maintaining multiple points of contact within the vendor master file and keeping that information updated can ensure that crucial communication happens on time. Keeping closely connected with vendors and communicating about supply chain issues can make the difference between a business that thrives and one that does not survive the crisis.

Keeping Master Data Clean, Accurate and Accessible

Historically, organizations have struggled with master data management due to the large number of systems where the data resides and the number of parties “touching” (e.g., creating, reading, editing, deleting) this data. Limitations in the systems architecture often make the job of centralizing these data assets a daunting proposition, leading firms to shy away from tackling this problem. The good news is that existing solution offerings have advanced greatly to allow companies to address the data unification issue more cost effectively and with improved agility. Cloud master data management solutions and other control mechanisms available today can help address earlier challenges.

As companies emerge out of the crisis, they should consider the following questions and ways to address them:

  • Analyzing the structure of the master data – are we storing the right information to address our business needs and to handle future crisis situations like COVID-19?
  • Assessing the quality of master data – are we maintaining our master data and keeping it updated/relevant for future uses?
  • Actively managing data sets – do we have a centralized repository, or a set of unified controls, to help keep our master data in sync across different systems and fit for use throughout its lifecycle?

For years, companies have talked about their data as a key asset. The current crisis has reminded us exactly how valuable that asset is – for retaining customers, keeping employees happy and safe, and ensuring supply chains don’t deteriorate placing the business in danger. The insight gained from today’s experience should become the foresight driving companies to make master data management a priority once the turbulence subsides.

Read additional posts on The Protiviti View related to Top Risks.

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