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Lowell Fryman, CBIP-CDMP

Welcome! The Business Glossary (BG) blog is the Internet research space that will focus the latest thinking about how we can enable communications and alignment across the enterprise from the terminology of the enterprise. We will discuss topics from why and how to start a BG, the roles/responsibilities, the differing approaches for governance, how to create a great definition structure for your terms, methods to deliver great value from the BG, and trends to align the IT assets and BI analytics that will lead to better business decisions. We will also challenge the software vendors to provide us with more mature solutions. Please watch the topics presented to keep abreast of the latest techniques and technologies in an industry segment that is still young and growing rapidly.

About the author >

Lowell, Senior Principal Consultant at Aspen Information Solutions Inc., is recognized as a thought leader in data warehousing, enterprise data management, and metadata management. He has more than 25 years experience in data management and hands-on experience with over 80 data warehousing implementations. Lowell has authored articles, white papers, and is a co-author of the book Business Metadata: Capturing Enterprise Knowledge. Lowell has developed technology courses and trained thousands of professionals in data warehousing, master data management (MDM), data quality, data management and business glossary topics. Recently he has led teams in the implementation of business glossary, enterprise data management, and business intelligence applications in the healthcare and financial services industries. He is a past adjunct professor at Daniels College of Business, Denver University. He is also the past President of DAMA-I Rocky Mountain Chapter (RMC) and an active speaker at international conferences. He currently leads the LinkedIn groups for Business Glossary and Unstructured Data Warehousing. Lowell can be reached at lowell.fryman@aspensolutionsgroup.com.

I'm often asked this question. It is a critical question for you to answer for your Business Glossary program. Like many enterprise wide data management programs we generally have to define the anticipated business value and expected end result before we can gain funding for the program, both in terms of the business and technical values.  And like many enterprise data management initiatives much of the significant value proposition is intangible. What is the value of improved communications, better use of data, or the ability to make better business decisions? To create an economic estimate or ROI computation, one has to understand what the value propositions are and then make some assumptions as to the future value that will be achieved.  Honestly, I have not seen a formal ROI done for a business glossary project yet. But everyone has done a definition of the anticipated value as part of the funding effort. I have even seen the value definition completed in an informal manner; "We really need to build one. Can you write a two page description and value statement for me by 1PM?" 

Many businesses are moving aggressively to counter data ambiguity and understand by building business glossary applications and governance. The glossary should be implemented to be used by all employees as a means for business term understanding and everyday communications. An objective of the glossary program should be to enable business communications such as email requests for reporting, understanding marketing plans, legal documentation and everyday communications. Technology professionals can leverage the glossary content to use a common language when defining project requirements or designing reports.

I suggest that the prime objective of a business glossary is to improve the ability for individuals to have an understanding for critical business concepts and thus improve communications across the diverse organizations and geographies of an organization.

So let's start with a small list of the business value of a Business Glossary.

The top value statements I see most often stated are:

·         To maximize (or improve) the understanding of the core business concepts and terminology of the organization. A business glossary can connect workers across the enterprise to critical business information they can trust, helping to eliminate misunderstandings that cause lost time, lost opportunities and lost revenue.

  • To minimize the misuse of data due to inaccurate understanding of the business concepts and terms. To achieve this, we must manage the concepts or business terms, the definition of each, and associated knowledge such as who is responsible for the term, what metrics might be associated, how the term should be used or not used, what other terms are related, or which have been replaced by this term.

·         To maximize communications and understand across the enterprise. For now I will avoid suggesting that we have a "common" understanding since that suggests that there is one and one only one definition of business concepts. We can agree to disagree as long as we name different concepts differently. I'll have a few articles to discuss the issues of creating great definitions, term naming and governance.

  • To improve the alignment of the business organizations with the technology assets and organization. The terminology of the business can be aligned with the technology implementations and assets. We can identify the BI metrics, the applications, processes, databases, and data stewards that are associated with business glossary terms. Yes, to achieve this objective will require more than just the business glossary application. Processes and people (governance) are also necessary, but the business glossary provides an enabling platform  
  • To maximize the decision-making processes through better access to knowledge of our business terms. A survey conducted by Accenture of 1,000 middle managers of large companies identified that 42% of the managers in the survey acknowledged that they had recently make erroneous business decisions due to misunderstanding of terminology and data usage. Greater understanding of business terms and usage can improve our management decision making.
  • To maximize the accuracy of the results to "searches" for business concepts, and associated knowledge. It is critical for people to find information associated with the key business terms of the organization. We all have done an Internet search for something only find nothing of actual value from the 300 or more returned values.  The Business Glossary application should support the ability to "gain access to knowledge of the enterprise." This often begins with a "search" for a term or list of terms
  • To support the data gvernance processes and team.  Many organizations have started their enterprise data governance programs with the creation of a business glossary. When it is possible a governance team should be responsible for the standards, processes, and lifecycle of the terms and definitions in the business glossary. This is a great first effort for the governance team.
  • To support the implementation of metadata processes or metadata technology implementation. The Data Warehousing Instituteâ„¢ Research conducted a survey in 2010 to identify the benefits of improving metadata management. The questions asked was "what would be the benefits of improving metadata management?" The top 4 answers from the respondents were:
    1. Better data sharing across the enterprise (79%)
    2. More compliant use of data (59%)
    3. Faster response to change (52%)
    4. Reduced data-related risk (49%)

You may want to read this research report from TDWI entitled "Cost Justification for Metadata Management" by Philip Russom.

A business glossary can fulfill a broad range of business and technical objectives. Each enterprise should assess the objectives that are critical for the business and technical challenges existing prior to initiating a business glossary program.

I welcome your comments and feedback about the objectives and challenges you have faced for your glossary implementation.

Lowell Fryman


Posted September 12, 2012 12:12 PM
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