Business Glossary

5 Costly Business Problems Easily Fixable with a Business Glossary and Data Catalog

David Vavruska
January 30, 2023 | 20 min read
The industry of metadata and data quality management has seen a remarkable surge in the past two years. Companies and departments that have long struggled with identifying their long-standing efficiency issues are now exploring new ways of optimization that were not possible just a short time ago.

You have likely been confronted with terms such as active metadata management, business glossary, data catalog, or data quality management and how these tools and initiatives have helped to save (or make) significant amounts of money for companies that have successfully adopted them. But you are probably not sure what specific benefit they might bring to your organization or business.

You do not want to just blindly chase after empty buzzwords. In this series of articles, Accurity will guide you through these latest opportunities, the benefits using the right data tools will bring to your company, and ultimately how to build a presentable business case around them.

Bringing order to chaos

Did you notice that your colleagues often run around frantically, asking others where they could find a piece of data they need to wrap up a project? Or worse, are they not even sure what data your company has? Does each of your colleagues keep a series of Excel sheets where they keep the data interesting to them without anybody else knowing they do so?

I am sure this is a familiar situation to more than a few of you. Chaos around data is nothing uncommon. Funnily enough, it can also be a surprisingly frequent occurrence in IT companies. A data catalog is a way to solve most of these issues, but here are a couple of questions to have on your mind as you are trying to figure out whether such a tool is the thing for you.

The first and most basic prerequisite for needing a data catalog is having to frequently use data for a business purpose. These tasks can be done without a data catalog, but it is how easily they are done that should catch your attention. How good is the understanding of what data is being centrally kept by the company and where it can be found? Especially if that data is distributed among your colleagues. When your teams are performing a task that they use some of your data for, are they slowed down by adapting to dozens of localized data sources? Do individuals make those data sources without conforming to any kind of standardization or harmonization?

Essentially, the most important symptoms to look out for are how easily one can get to the information of where a piece of data is stored and how easy it is to use that piece of data, along with others, to complete the assigned task. If the answer to those questions is “it’s a slow, drawn-out process”, a data catalog may certainly help you.

A data catalog is essentially an information center on data that documents all of your data sources and repositories. It shows its users the complete map of all their data down to individual data elements, such as columns. It may also enable documentation of relationships between data and their technical specifications.

A data catalog can be used to gain quick knowledge of where any one piece of data is stored and how to get to it, as well as how it influences or depends on other parts of the data infrastructure.

Deploy the data catalog when you need to ensure compliance by tracing each piece of data to a regulatory requirement, when you want to save on time your employees spend just searching for data, as well as when you want to make sure you are not investing precious budget on creating and storing redundant data.

Bringing single truth into reporting

How often do you have fierce, last-minute arguments with other stakeholders over what is this or another widget saying? It can happen. Departmental disagreements have been around ever since departments became a thing.

The day-to-day operations of our respective departments shape and evolve our personal definitions on such things as qualified leads, calculated revenue potential, or target groups. It is natural that everybody forms their own definition based on personal experience. Problems arise when a group of people with the objective of making an informed decision backed by data get stuck arguing what that data should even be about.

Worlds collide when each entity submits its regular report talking about customer activity, opportunities, and qualified leads. Suppose these metrics are not defined according to a general policy by the mother group. In that case, the group’s portfolio managers may very well make economically important decisions on tackling opportunities without realizing that each entity submitting these reports defines an opportunity as a (slightly or wildly) different thing.

The effects of these issues can be remedied by establishing a centralized repository for definitions of all potentially contentious or otherwise centrally important metrics and areas. With each stakeholder on a departmental or company level having access to such a repository, the infuriating war over words (which employees of certain acquired companies use as a way to “mark their territory” to egotistically vent their frustrations with new management – but we’ll get to this a little later) will be forever concluded, as each such matter will be decided by a quick look into the repository of harmonized terminology everyone has agreed on.

Such a repository is called a business glossary – a centralized source of definitions that all stakeholders have access to. Depending on the company methodology, the stakeholders for each topic can either use it to discuss and define these definitions together, or they can be simply given access and informed what the definitions are without extra fuss. To provide data consumers with the correct definitions right at the point where they view the metrics, a browser dictionary plugin is available for any web page or application.

Example of the Browser Dictionary extension/add-on feature | Screenshot | Accurity data intelligence software platform | Business Glossary and Data Catalog solutionHere, the most important thing to look out for is the potential for bad economic and managerial decisions because of discord in proper metrics and data understanding. It is a subtle threat. One that is hard to detect unless you know it is happening. But it is also one of the possibly more dangerous to ignore threats because decisions based on improper data can lead to financial harm to the entire company. It can be easier (not to mention cheaper) to proactively approach this issue and establish a business glossary sooner rather than later as a precaution against such possibilities.

Deploy a business glossary when you want to minimize the risk of losing money by acting on inaccurate data, when you want to save time and increase the efficiency of executive meetings, and also to save operational costs that come with teams and departments being out of sync with each other, both business and technology-wise.

Creating synergies of teams and technologies after mergers and acquisitions

Similar problems can manifest on a much larger scale, especially in otherwise self-sustaining companies that a mother group controls. The common scenario can be that a company grows in size and market share and eventually starts considering an acquisition of an established brand or company on the market to supplement its offering. Alternatively, the acquisition can be a means to enable market expansion. At any rate, the relationship between the acquired company and its new mother is a crucial thing to get right. Look for any instances where communication and data exchange between the two is not smooth. Are your newly acquired colleagues having problems accessing your data? Do they know what the proper methodologies in your companies are? Are the technological setups of your two companies fully compatible with each other?

Issues are often ripe on the personal level, too. Being disconnected from the day-to-day operations of other group entities, each company forms its own work culture and discipline and establishes its own technology ecosystems and methodologies. Things that your acquired colleagues will not be all too keen to change and get on board with the new order brought by you and your mother company.

As mentioned above, matters of the corporate identity of acquired companies are often points of contention in managerial meetings, where acquired managers jump at opportunities to defend their previous way of working. At the same time, group management uses every opportunity to remind them of the new order of affairs. This is often the case with public companies where ownership of the controlling interest can change without the company’s management having a say in the matter.

Pretty much anything the mother group does not control by a mandatory policy, like consolidated reporting, will be left up to the creative license of the entity’s teams. Therefore, this is also a proper situation to develop a business glossary.

A centralized library of unquestionable truth accessible from every part of the company with no room for personal or entity interpretation of the rules but plenty of room for civil and organized discussion and cooperation across the group.

In the case of mergers and acquisitions, be on the lookout for discord among teams from different companies of your group. For example, if there are common clashes among stakeholders from different companies over methodology, processes, technology, and nomenclature, this might be a case for the business glossary.

Like the previous case, deploy a business glossary early after the merger when you want to save on the immense costs of a longwinded, years-lasting integration of several legal entities into a single structure. Force synergy and common ground on an interpersonal and technological level which will allow you to not only save money on a hugely expensive and largely pointless MBB-led merger consulting project.

Cost control for onboarding and training of new staff

How long does it take for a newly hired junior employee to get ready for deployment on projects? Educating a new colleague is always important, and how hard it is to perform depends greatly on your hiring strategy. However, there will always be some internal education when onboarding new staff.

The question now is: how to go about that internal education? Some companies have an internal training team that does hands-on workshops for new hires. Most companies, however, ask their senior staff to prepare and lead these workshops. They are the ones who have the experience on those projects these junior colleagues will be asked to do, aren’t they? Who better to lead their training than those who will lead them on projects, right?

But the time of senior staff costs money. Time they would spend on a project is normally billable to a customer. Time spent on internal training comes as a pure expense. Not to mention that your senior expert will be blocked for some time, unable to move their customer project further.

With a training setup like this, you must have a well-figured-out employee seniority pyramid. With too few senior professionals, you cannot school enough new junior hires and retain the capacity to support customer projects simultaneously.

An alternative to this painful but necessary process can be automating (or partially automating) the training process wherever possible. For skills, you might want to establish recordings of senior staff explaining the basics. An internal wiki or knowledge base might be the solution for explaining what data, areas of interest, processes, project items, and other similar things.

And yet again, the business glossary proves to be an invaluable and highly flexible asset. With clear control over definitions of terms and access to them, their categories, and connections, you can create an interactive internal training wiki in no time.

Some business glossaries (Accurity included) integrate with other software to help users get familiar with new terms while reading other educational materials, such as reports, documentation, or industry-relevant articles.

If you have a shortage of senior staff needed to train junior staff, or you wish to cut expenses on internal employee development, that is another scenario that a business glossary can solve for you.

Utilize a business glossary as an autonomous learning tool to minimize the costs of internal training of the newly onboarded while maximizing the billability of your most senior experts (who come to your clients with the largest price tag), allowing you to also make do with a much smaller internal training team, enabling savings on personnel.

Making reporting data easy to track

In your company, how long does it take to create a report? Every report requires data to feed its calculations and visualizations. And in order to access that data, it needs to be first found and accessed. Sounds simple. But the reality is usually far more chaotic than this. Finding the proper data often entails a lot of frantic running around, asking various colleagues where the data is because you have heard from another colleague that they used it once two years ago for something.

It is also often the case that reports someone was assigned to create already exist in two or three different iterations that were each created by a different person for different reasons. And nobody knows they exist, which in turn prompts the creation of another redundant report and wastes the time of everyone involved.

Alternatively, this information can be harvested from already existing reports on similar topics, but then begins another big hamster race of getting to the information of who is the owner of said reports and gaining proper access permissions from them to see where the source data comes from.

All these occurrences can take up the better part of a person’s work week. They are way too common in larger organizations where stakeholders for individual reporting domains don’t regularly communicate with one another about what data they use and what for. So tracking everything and being in touch with everyone gets harder and harder the larger your company gets, and there is just no going around it.

If you notice that your company follows this very common trend of BI management, don’t panic. A way of circumventing this very people-heavy process that nobody has time to deal with does exist. And it is very simple.

If you had a repository that contained definitions of all the topics your reports give insights about and then a repository of where each piece of data is physically stored, you could connect these together to discover where the data is located for each respective reporting topic and metric.

This solution is known in the industry as vertical (or business) data lineage, and it connects data locations to their meaning and context.

After being given the task of producing a report, you would then have to simply find the appropriate metric explained in the business glossary (the definition repository) and display the business data lineage leading to a specific column, in a specific table, in a specific database. A week or so of running around the office asking questions is erased in under ten seconds by performing three clicks.

Just imagine the productivity increase and the time saved! And keep your eyes out for your team members running pointless loops just to get to data that can be just three clicks away.

Use vertical data lineage if you want to save on money that you pay your BI specialists for the weeks they spend doing what could be done in seconds while avoiding the excess investment into developing redundant reports, which can, in turn, allow you to achieve the same results with a smaller BI team.

A data platform with business at its heart

While many tools out there might be able to perform the above-explained tasks technically as described, none provide the same user experience as Accurity. The Accurity platform’s claim to fame is that it is built to solve business problems first and foremost. In contrast, other tools that provide lineages, business glossaries, and data catalogs are often primarily designed to provide solutions to technical issues. It just happens that most business problems are caused by not having data in order, and Accurity excels at providing order.

By looking at data governance through a business user’s eyes, we designed the Accurity platform to be as tailor-made to solve complex business issues as technologically possible. We are also able to understand any other business case our customers bring to us and flexibly adapt our platform to fulfill their requirements.

If you suspect you might have a need for our data intelligence tools in your company, but you are not quite sure if they really can help you or whether you can implement them, get a free demo with our product experts, tell us what you and your company are experiencing, and we will find a solution together.

David Vavruska
Product Analyst