Writing developed primarily for the purpose of recording and storing data. For thousands of years, data management was a manual process that relied on text written by hand on a variety of media – from clay tablets, through parchment and vellum, to paper. Large organizations have generally made some attempt to store their records for future use. Aside from libraries – which are, in effect, databases – the largest historical databases were created by governments, both secular and religious. Sub-optimal organization, however, made such databases difficult to use as they grew in size. The British National Archives, for example, maintains a continuous run of court records from the early thirteenth century, but poor organization of the information, coupled with the physical size of the documents, has kept their utility relatively low.
The development of information storage – mechanical at first in the form of punch cards, through magnetic tape, to today’s digital format – immensely increased both the amount of information that organizations could maintain and the ability to use that information easily. Both the expansion of the amount of information that organizations capture and store and the growth of those organizations themselves have increased the complexity of managing information. Many businesses maintain multiple databases across their constituent groups, and these databases often house contradictory data. Technological innovation continues to improve the ability to store, search and retrieve data, but effective master data management remains more than just a technological issue and requires communication and cooperation across the entire organization.