Now, data definitions are something I feel very strongly about (and I think you would be very surprised if I said otherwise). After all how can we hope to govern or manage our data, if we don't even know what it is supposed to mean? So at the appropriate point in every data governance initiative, I get the Data Stewards and Data Owners to start drafting and approving definitions for the data which they own. Now this sounds easy, but you would be surprised how difficult it can be to actually put into practice. I've been to many lengthy workshops to try to define what "customer" means and there's been some painful sessions trying to agree whether "products" and "services" were the same thing...
Now I am not alone in my fondness for definitions, it is a trait of all good data quality and data governance practitioners, but as I have discovered discussing and agreeing definitions with my peers is far from easy. For the past eighteen months I have been chairing the DAMA UK Working Group on Data Quality Dimensions. This group was set up to produce some best practice advice on a standard set of data quality dimensions.
I have found it a privilege to work with such a talented and experienced group of people. But one thing that has surprised me, was how hard we found it to agree on definitions for the data quality dimensions. I naively thought that a gathering of like-minded individuals would make the definition part of the work easy. I couldn't have been more wrong! For many years, in the absence of published standard definitions, we have each been working to our own interpretations and it is therefore no surprise that they are different. What was surprising was that as a group of individuals we were using a term, for example "accuracy" to mean different things.
The experience has been both incredibly educational and rewarding, and serves as an excellent example on the importance of agreed definitions. After all how can we as a profession advise organisations on the importance of data quality, if we can't agree how to describe the assessment of it? And don't get me started on the definition of a data quality dimension, let alone the debate on whether we should even call them dimensions.
After months of discussions the paper was presented and debated at an excellent joint event between DAMA UK and the BCS Data Management Specialist Group in June this year. The white paper has been updated following feedback gained at that event and can be found on the DAMA UK website.
If you are interested in joining the debate there is still a chance, Denise Cook (a fellow member of the working group) and I will be presenting the paper and facilitating another debate on its contents at the Enterprise Data and BI Conference next week, so please do come along and help us get to the bottom of these definitions!
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