Reference Data Management

The Importance of Reference Data Management and Being Creative with Static Data

David Vavruska
November 2, 2021 | 9 min read
In contrast to the ever-changing landscape of performance data your company might gather, the so called “static data“ may seem uninteresting and unimportant. After all, static data (such as countries, genders, or ISO codes and what they mean) never or rarely change. Even its other name, “reference data”, implies that its only purpose is being referenced somewhere and not much else… right?

Well, yes and no. Firstly, one should not dismiss traditional reference data management, as even something so simple can have an immense effect on the overall quality of your company’s data.

Secondly, a creative person can use classic reference management techniques to make day to day working with data so much easier. But we will get to that further down.

What is reference data and why do companies keep it?

Very simply put, reference data is data about things in this world that change very rarely. It is usually stored as codes and sorted into hierarchies and lists of values. Reference data can tell us about countries (FIPS10-4), currencies (ISO 4217), time zones (ISO 8601), industries (NACE), etc.

Tracking these codes is often necessary, whether you work in regulated industries such as healthcare or finance, or your company just wants to make its data more understandable across teams.

Previously, these codes would be stored in countless Excel sheets spread across a multitude of teams, each having a separate copy of these lists of values. There was little to no synchronization between these sheets and when eventually the master list of values got updated, there was no way to distribute the changes among the Excel sheets used by individual teams. When multiple teams tried to cooperate and each used different reference data, there was no way to decide whose data was correct.

Reference Data Management systems introduced a new way of working with this kind of data. A way to create an undisputable master record of reference data tables from which all local instances would take reference data. Whenever a change is made, it gets immediately distributed to all local reference tables. Static data doesn’t need to be kept only in Excel sheets – Reference Data Management systems can be integrated with most programs which would need to use the data in their lists of values directly.

And one of their most valued function is to provide a way of translation of various versions of the same data. A practical example: many countries require companies to use industry codes in their regulatory reporting. However, not all countries use the same set of codes. European countries use NACE codes. North American countries use NAICS codes and some United States / United Kingdom offices use SIC codes. Three ways to say the same thing. And if your company does business around the world, cases like this will become increasingly common.

What Reference Data Management solutions allow you to do is create one unifying internal translation of these diverging codes and link them together. That way, you can always tell what a code means in a way that you can understand, and any app will be able to automatically use the correct set of codes without compromising the overall synchronization with other apps.

Using Reference Data Management creatively

While designed for handling these kinds of static data, the principles of Reference Data Management can actually be very helpful elsewhere. One of the key features of every Reference Data Management solution is the ability to map different representations of the same thing to a master version.

This can be very useful in a situation where you must work with data from different departments that each keep the same data in their own way. For instance, there can be multiple departments, each tracking customer addresses in different formats. While a logistics department will want to have a full customer address at their disposal, the marketing department may only be interested in the city or region where the customer is located, so that they can efficiently target their online marketing campaign. A Reference Data Management solution with a business rule feature can be used to automatically transform addresses imported in full format into formats more easily usable by individual departments.

Similarly, you could solve the issue of not being aligned on the holidays in countries your customers live in so that you send them newsletters on the right days. Sure, this could all be done in Excel, but it would take quite some time – and would be complicated for most casual Excel users. Add to that the fact that by using Excel, you would further the problem of everyone maintaining their reference data in unsynchronized Excel sheets, and you will begin to see the benefits of using a Reference Data Management solution beyond the constraints of its original purpose of use.

Using RDM to support Master Data Management (MDM)

Years ago, I was put in charge of selecting a company-wide customer relationship management (CRM) solution and prepare it to be used by every department of an international company. This company sold IT solutions to big institutional players such as banks, insurance companies, automotive manufacturers, etc. There were four main departments at the time, each selling different solutions through its own team of sales reps, and each with its own CRM. Three of them used CRMs available online for free and the last department used one they built themselves in Excel.

A crucial part of my task was to determine how many clients does the company actually have, and make sure that all of them were in the new CRM system at the time it enters use. I knew this would be difficult because each of the departmental CRM systems described their clients in a different format, and also because the clientele of these four departments often overlapped, and no one could tell how many actual unique clients were there amongst all the different systems.

We spent months coming up with a solution. Had we had a solution through which we could define what form does a client record take in each of the old CRMs, and which would then allow us to see client record redundancies, create a standardized form of client data from all unique records, and import it directly into the newly deployed central CRM, it would have been a couple of weeks work, at most, instead of the significantly longer approach actually undertaken.

Words of worldly advice

The larger a company is the greater the likelihood of a similar episode occurring. Solving these kinds of problems when they manifest themselves is necessary – but can be unnecessarily costly. A growing business can significantly benefit in the long-term if it finds ways to centrally manage reference or, shall we say, similar data from the get-go.

And the bottom line? A simple to use, customizable, and flexible Reference Data Management solution can be an excellent time, energy, and cost saver, regardless of whether you are managing static data or trying to find a clever workaround in an uncomprehensive spreadsheet jungle.

If you would like a simple to use, customizable, and flexible Reference Data Management solution then our Accurity platform could be the right tool for you. Book your very own 1-on-1 personalized demo to get going.

David Vavruska
Product Analyst