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Book Review: Data Modeling for the Business

Originally published June 4, 2009

Data modeling is beginning to be a lost art, and this certainly puts organizations at peril. The conceptual, logical and physical levels of modeling are essential to gain an understanding of the business and effectively translate that to the systems that will support it. The physical model, being the closest to actual tables, gets done more than the logical model that, in turn, will get done more than a conceptual model. The conceptual model, however, starts the modeling process. Whether you subscribe to top-down or bottom-up approaches, the quick-turn, one-page conceptual data model (or HDM/high-level data model as the authors put it) is an essential ingredient and finally gets its due in Data Modeling for the Business: A Handbook for Aligning the Business with IT using High-Level Data Models by Steve Hoberman, Donna Burbank and Chris Bradley (Technics Publications, LLC, 2009).

The accessible book focuses on the HDM and is not another book on the many nuances of logical data modeling and how to handle each and every situation with logical modeling constructs. It is about process and technique, and it establishes the linkage between the business and its databases. Notably, the book is not strictly about data warehouses/marts and other forms of analytic databases. Dimensional modeling is discussed as viable for the HDM (if doing it from a business monitoring perspective).

I liked the comparison of the various data modeling notations – ER, IE, IDEF1X, Barker, UML, ORM and Natural Language. I had not seen them side by side. They all cover the same ground and are intuitive, though some more than others. In this section, and several others, I was able to realize and label my own personal biases in modeling. This will be helpful in understanding the different data modeling approaches of my teammates and clients and reinforced the need for clarity throughout the modeling process.

I also appreciated the real-world practicality of the book. For example, knowing that modeling can be foreign to the culture, let alone getting business involvement in modeling, a simple suggestion is made to engender involvement: food. Also the “Now You Try It” at the end of several sections was a nice touch to reinforce the learning in the sections.

There’s as much to be said as is needed on the subject of HDM in the book – practical in conveying hard, applicable skills on the job.

If more companies effectively used HDM, as recommended, demonstrated and articulated in this book, businesses would know and model themselves better and that would result in improved business results.

  • William McKnightWilliam McKnight
    William is the president of McKnight Consulting Group, a firm focused on delivering business value and solving business challenges utilizing proven, streamlined approaches in data warehousing, master data management and business intelligence, all with a focus on data quality and scalable architectures. William functions as strategist, information architect and program manager for complex, high-volume, full life-cycle implementations worldwide. William is a Southwest Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, a frequent best-practices judge, has authored hundreds of articles and white papers, and given hundreds of international keynotes and public seminars. His team's implementations from both IT and consultant positions have won Best Practices awards. He is a former IT Vice President of a Fortune company, a former software engineer, and holds an MBA. William is author of the book 90 Days to Success in Consulting. Contact William at wmcknight@mcknightcg.com.

    Editor's Note: More articles and resources are available in William's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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