Share information remotely with master data and knowledge base management– by Michelle Knight

Michelle Knight | May 13, 2021

Companies frequently struggle with departmental silos, where necessary enterprise-wide information remains stuck with one team or one person. While employees work remotely across different geographical locations, engaging in conversations becomes physically challenging, even with video conferencing and messaging applications. As a result, 41% of those surveyed don’t feel connected to their colleagues, and business activities become less efficient.

To bridge these gaps, organizations may implement one of two kinds of solutions. Some companies develop or use a master data management solution, which coordinates business activities together through standardized data. Other firms manage common policy and procedural documents using a self-service knowledge base, a metadata ‘encyclopedia.’ Rarely do managers coordinate the two approaches together.

This article considers both master data and knowledge management to make information sharing much more effective, across the organization, rather than with one solution alone. Learn about:

  • What is master data management?
  • Two master data management cases that foster data sharing
  • What is knowledge management?
  • Two knowledge base cases that foster sharing
  • Why combine master data and knowledge management? 
  • How can master data management work with knowledge management?
  • Conclusion

What is master data management?

Master Data Management frameworks solve a lack of data sharing during business operations and analytics by harmonizing the data. They does this by taking core data elements from separate systems and integrating them into single data entities, master data, in one place, a technical hub. 

To coordinate and support business activities, companies create a data governance structure, policies and procedures, people, technology, and processes around the master data.

Below I have included two business cases using master data management.

Two master data management cases that foster data sharing

Business case studies provide the best ways to handle how master data management makes sharing information across the enterprise easier. I have provided two use cases below:

  • ScanOne, a growing mid-sized organization, automatically processed invoices for its customers, other businesses. The more invoices ScanOne completed by automatically filling out invoices, the more profitable its business.

    Since a ScanOne customer would receive multiple invoices from the same vendor, it made sense to standardize this vendor information for consistency, accuracy, and reusability. To achieve this goal, ScanOne set up a master data management capability where the system matches incoming customer invoices to the authoritative vendor record, per the customer requirements. ScanOne used and populated the same vendor information for quick and accurate processing among multiple departments.
  • Olin College of Engineering, a start-up college, wanted to retain its students and make their experiences more favorable. At an interdepartmental meeting, the registrar – the office tracking student credits and grades – entered new records for the incoming freshmen. But the admissions department had collected all that information a year earlier, during the application process.

    The redundant processes between the registrar and admissions duplicated efforts and risked error. So, Olin put together a system where the admissions department would be responsible for the student contact information, and the registrar would use the records created by admissions. A master data management infrastructure tied the college offices together.

In both use cases, master data management helped multiple units share data more effectively. 

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management structures solve the problem in centralizing company-wide procedures and processes. Effective knowledge management uses a knowledge base, a flexible technology system to hold and relate like documents, categories or metadata, and relationships. Readers use metadata, data about data, to find knowledge base content.

In addition to a knowledge base technology, knowledge management requires a governance structure. Workers across the company must agree about knowledge base procedures and employee roles there. 

Also, knowledge management requires a company to put together an approval process backed by management, giving the knowledge base information credibility. Knowledge governance ensures that readers can use knowledge base content to do their work and have the standard company process.

Two knowledge management cases that foster sharing 

To understand how businesses use a knowledge base, I have provided two examples below.

  • At Scan One, I would process customer invoices and make sure that the automated systems worked correctly. When I started as a new employee, I would write on sticky notes and Microsoft Word files about what I was learning. That way, I could remember any critical tasks.

    As part of my job, I needed to check the reference data, a type of master data that acts as a key for application understanding, was sent correctly for a customer. My manager asked me to put my notes away and only use the procedure written in the knowledge base. Why?

    The ScanOne managers updated the processes regularly in the knowledge base and relied on staff to get the most current information. If I used my notes, I would be working from an older process and risked doing the work incorrectly. ScanOne relied on staff members to research steps in the knowledge base.
  • At NWEA, a non-profit firm assessing children’s learning in school, I tested software assessment tools. Part of my job required setting up technical configurations, including homegrown applications, to run the software tests.

    Most of these software assessments required arranging the technology the same way to start and use the same software applications. The software testing and developer teams, using these kinds of procedures, had offices across the building.

    The project manager wanted to centralize the testing processes and procedures and make them accessible across the company. As a result, the project manager asked me to create documents in the NWEA knowledge base system that detailed the provisioning steps for testing the software. Any NWEA employee with a web browser could get to the instructions I wrote.

Why combine master data and knowledge management?

In the examples above, the organizations needed to share customer data across the departments to make business activities more effective and to communicate standardized processes around using that data. In other words, organizations needed to address the two types of problems together, providing credible and standardized customer data with correct content about how to handle that data.

Some master data management systems have a help section or labels in the user interface to guide employees in working with the application. But this kind of help does not address when, where, how, and why to use an organization's master data.

Likewise, knowledge base articles may have a company's contact's or manager's name should a type of problem occur. However, I would not want to put hundreds of customer names and contacts in multiple categorized documents to automate invoice processing or improve student retention. The data would just be too hard to find and use.

Kurt Cagle, a writer and data scientist, says:

"Enterprise data is not application data. It fulfills a different need, has a much greater requirement for metadata and should be handled in a different manner."

This reasoning also explains why companies need distinct technical and information approaches in handling each of these knowledge-sharing problems across the organization.

How can master data management work with knowledge management?

Given that companies require both data and knowledge management, how can they put them together so employees can communicate and connect well? 

  • Improve your data literacy, especially in communicating and understanding business needs around data and knowledge.
  • Consider company lunch and learn sessions so that departments can talk about data and information sharing.
  • Tap into data and knowledge governance to sort out who is in charge of the data and what aspects.
  • Build hyperlinks from your knowledge base to your master data management system and vice-versa.
  • Keep two windows open, one for the master data management and another for the master data instructions. You can also have each on two separate monitors. 


Remote work has become a norm, with employees spread across the world geographically. This reality makes sharing customer information one of the customer support challenges.

Companies implement master data management to use high-quality customer data and reuse it to shorten business processes. But this solution is not enough to address information sharing needs.

Organizations need to consider a knowledge base, too, so that master data policies and procedures do not remain in silos. That way, employees across the organization work more effectively and create more consistent and trustworthy experiences with customers.

About the author
Michelle Knight
Michelle Knight

Michelle has a diverse background in software testing, quality assurance, library and information science, which support growing professionals, information management, and technology learning. Michelle lived in a floating home in Portland, Oregon, and now is in a different neighborhood with a pizza oven in the garage. She spends her free time with her husband Scott and an adopted husky mix, Taffy. You can learn more about her on LinkedIn or her website writing portfolio.

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