This blog post suggests the best sources of definition content and ways to determine what should be defined. The sources are existing popular reports, pre-existing local glossaries, data dictionaries or other material provided by vendors, and then information from reporting agencies such as IPEDS. Existing popular reports is by far the best source of definitions but most organizations use a variety of sources.
Let us look at each one of these.
The first source are existing popular reports. This is our preferred source of definitions because it will automatically situate your data elements within a context that is important to your environment. Select your topmost popular ten reports in any given domain. Look at the columns and identify the ones to define such as enrollment term or at-risk customer or sales lead status. The report itself will ensure that you are defining data elements that are important and the context will help you with efficiency by grouping like data elements together.
The second source are pre-existing business glossaries. Some departments or groups in your organization may have created and published a list of glossary entries already. Here is an example of one we found located at https://data.research.cornell.edu/content/glossary. Move this existing information into your business glossary, either move it directly or import it. You want one central knowledge base as easier to maintain and allows everyone to talk the same language. Then review it and lightly edit it to conform to your organization’s standards of content that you are trying to ensure. Ask your departments or groups for these glossaries.
The third source is vendor provided information. There is various types of vendor information.
The first type is accessed by checking out the websites of vendors that the organization uses and searching for glossaries that they share. These are better for general terms but will need to be modified to fit the organization’s terminology. Here is an example of vendor provided: https://workday-info.miami.edu/resources/glossary/glossary-finance/index.html
Another type of information from a vendor is the more classic data dictionary and this is very technical in nature and sometimes there is a narrative definition. Definitions in the data dictionaries tend to be very circular and of poor quality for a business glossary and require more substantive editing. The dictionary itself can be a starting point for looking for vocabulary. It has been our experience that a data dictionary will shrink in size when it is being transposed into a business glossary. It will shrink anywhere from half to a third of its size. An example could be a short code description and a long code description in the dictionary but just needs one glossary entry. The other classic example of collapse is around addresses: address line 1, address line 2, address line 3, city, state, zip code, and country. All these elements are collapsed into one business glossary entry called customer forwarding address or employee home address.
The fourth source is to look at third-party reporting agencies. An example in the higher education market is IPEDS. The writing style is usually very narrative and business glossary focused but often the scope of what they are addressing tends to create a set of vocabulary that is too broad for a single organization. You need to edit out (or modify) the vocabulary that is not needed by your organization because it is not relevant to the type of organization you have.
Some other thoughts regarding business glossary content:
- Not a source but a good way to get ideas for definitions is to ask your new employees. What terms did they need definitions on that are not in the business glossary? They are new to your organization and maybe new to your industry. The business glossary should be a living resource and gets better over time.
- Often a new glossary entry will lead to another entry. It would be hard to create an entry for active customer when you do not have entry for customer.
- Don't forget your acronyms. For example, you should have entries for "BI" and for "Business Intelligence". And they should be linked together. Link your definitions when applicable.
- A business glossary is a key artifact for employees. A challenge for organizations is how to engage data users with their business glossary. You want to have the ability for reports users to request a change to a definition or add a new definition while accessing the report. Make the business glossary accessible to data users right where they see the data. Train them on the business glossary when they join the organization. Make it easy for employees to access the business glossary and keep it up-to-date so that it is useful.
It is just very challenging to sit down with a blank piece of paper and make a list of vocabulary. This blog post provides our recommendation of sources. We hope you found it useful to you and your organization. Most of our clients use a mix of these sources. They may use source one and source three more heavily or use a mix of all four sources.
Other business glossary-related resources (blog posts, recorded webinars and videos) are located in this blog post. Also check out our Best Sources of Business Glossary Content video.
IData has a solution, the Data Cookbook, that can aid the employees and the organization in its data governance, data intelligence, data stewardship and data quality initiatives. IData also has experts that can assist with data governance, reporting, integration and other technology services on an as needed basis. Feel free to contact us and let us know how we can assist.
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