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Perspective 6: All About the Data (Part 1)

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Now that we have wrapped up Perspective 5 around systems, we are ready to move forward with the final part of the Perspective Series, Data.

I started my career as a software engineer and a database administrator, and it became clear to me how important data is. Data can be extremely powerful to understand the functions of an organization. Data helps to bring clarity, evidence of trends and patterns, and can help drive decisions to transform organizations in many ways. Data can also be, depending on your organizational structure, very difficult to identify and complicated to understand. However, there are ways to identify and break data down as well as gain an understanding on how it is used.

So, what is this thing called data? According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, data is “facts or information, especially when examined and used to find out things or make decisions”. Data Analysis and Analytics has definitely been a hot topic in 2020 and I predict it will be for years to come. Rather you are someone who loves to analyze data or not, I do believe we can all agree there is power in data.

For this perspective we will focus on:

  1. How to identify data
  2. Some tools to uncover and document data
  3. How to analyze data – Introduction to data analytics

For this post we will start with how to identify data, and discuss one of the 4 tools I will be sharing.

How to Identify Data

As stated above finding data may be difficult, but here are some tips that have worked for me over the years to identify data as a business analyst, business subject matter expert, and database administrator:

Ask – work with your technology, or data partners, to determine what resources are available to identify and understand data. This could be data models, system architecture documents, or context diagrams as an example. These sorts of resources will help you identify the data sources. Also, you may have been capturing this information for the work you have done up to this point (process mapping, business rules, systems, etc.).

Now you may encounter instances where your technology or data partners may not give you the time of day. However, if you persevere to build the relationships with these partners and demonstrate how the collaboration will help the team be more efficient, as well as provide more specific requirements or business needs upfront, it can help alleviate some of the resistance. A couple of items to consider:

  • You may have to spend some time building relationships first before you go deeper into obtaining this information.
  • Make sure you are clear on why you desire this information.

Research – if your partners are not available you may have to do your own research and be creative with it. Locate any business and system documentation you may have. Analyze the documentation to start understanding data points, and then document your learnings. Through the research you will start to identify questions, and if you have direct/targeted questions for your technology partners then you may be able to get answers from them with less resistance as well.

As you are identifying various data points through your research and questions, there are some techniques you can leverage to document the data you are now obtaining. One such technique may be in creating a glossary.

Technique: Business / Data Glossary

The purpose of a glossary is to ensure everyone has the same understanding on what certain terms mean and how they are use in the organization. This is a great way to level set your understanding of business terminology. Below I have listed a format and what is contained in a glossary.

  • Term – a word, or group of words, that has a specific meaning.
  • Definition – the defined meaning of the word or term.
  • Data Type – the category of data defined by the value(s) it can take.
  • References – other terms that could be an alias, or reference, to the primary term.

Figure 1 – Glossary Example

It is extremely important everyone understands what the business terms mean. I have found where conversations have gone awry because of lack of clarity around terms. Do not assume that everyone in the organization has the same understanding as you do. Do not assume that your understanding is 100% right either. Technologies like iGrafx provide a platform where in a glossary can be centralized and re-used throughout all your various levels of documentation.

In my next post I will expand on three more techniques that can be leveraged to capture and understand data. Until then, be sure to connect with me on LinkedIn or find out more about my consulting services at https://www.paulaabell.com/

Until next time, signing off,
Paula Bell
The BA Martial Artist 🥋

 

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