Did You Get What You Asked For?

I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas and New Year celebrations. When discussing mine with various friends I got to thinking about data (as is my wont) and I have an important question for you: Did you get what you asked for?

It was hearing amusing anecdotes about strange or bewildering presents received, that got me thinking how similar it was to the tales I frequently get regaled with while working. You ask for a certain report, a set of data or the answer to a question, but don't always receive what you were expecting. Now is that the fault of the person or system that supplied the data or is there the slightest possibility that you didn't make your requirements crystal clear?

I have gained a reputation for being quite pedantic about definitions and for good reason.  Ok my husband gets frustrated with me because I believe that “five minutes” really does mean five minutes and of course, the vagaries of the English language can cause some humorous misunderstandings.  But it stops being amusing or mildly irritating when a report is required for regulatory reasons or when your company’s executives make the wrong decisions based on that data.

Take for example a situation when you need to report on the loans you provide based on the maturity of those loans and you ask for a report to be created based on “Facility End Date”.  What if that field name doesn’t exist and the person creating the report selects what they think you mean instead, say “Annual Facility Review Date” (after all “end date” and “review date” are likely to be the same thing aren’t they)?  That could result in you reporting all of your loans as short term loans, having far reaching consequences, if undetected.

Of course if every organisation had an enterprise wide Business Glossary or Data Dictionary, such misunderstandings could easily be avoided. Sadly these are still a rare commodity, but if your company is only just thinking about such an initiative or it hasn’t yet been raised, do not despair you can start making some small changes that can start your organisation on the journey to having a Business Glossary. Simply make sure that you take responsibility for defining what you are asking for. Don’t just ask for a report containing a list of field names, include a very brief description, it doesn’t need to be much just enough to enable someone to work out what it is you want.  If you are the person creating the reports, data sets etc. challenge the requestor, encourage them to provide brief definitions of what they require.  Finally if you have either provided or received the definitions please keep them safe, perhaps start storing them somewhere that others can access and add to them.  Slowly but surely you can start laying the foundations for the culture change needed.

And in case you were wondering, did I get what I asked for this Christmas? Well what do you think?!


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