Data Strategy Component: Govern
This blog is the final installment in a series focused on reviewing the individual Components of a Data Strategy. This edition discusses the component Govern and the details associated with supporting a Data Governance initiative as part of an overall Data Strategy.
The definition of Govern is:
“Establishing, communicating and monitoring information practices to ensure effective data sharing, usage, and protection”
As you’re likely aware, Data Governance is about establishing (and following) policies, rules, and all of the associated rigor necessary to ensure that data is usable, sharable, and that all of the associated business and legal details are respected. Data Governance exists because data sharing and usage is necessary for decision making. And, the reason that Data Governance is necessary is because the data is often being used for a purpose outside of why it was collected.
I’ve identified 5 facets about Data Governance to consider when developing your Data Strategy. As a reminder (from the initial Data Strategy Component blog), each facet should be considered individually. And because your Data Strategy goals will focus on future aspirational goals as well as current needs, you’ll likely want to consider different options for each. Each facet can target a small organization’s issues or expand to focus on a large company’s diverse needs.
Information policies are high level information-oriented objectives that your company (or organization, or “governing body”) identify. Information policies act as boundaries or guard rails to guide all of the detailed (and often tactical) rules to identify required and acceptable data-oriented behavior. To offer context, some examples of the information policies that I’ve seen include
- “All customer data will be protected from unauthorized use”.
- “User data access should be limited to ‘systems of record’(when available)”.
- “All data shipped into and out of the company must be processed by the IT Data Onboarding team”.
It’s very common for Data Governance initiatives to begin with focusing on formalizing and communicating a company’s information policies.
Business Data Rules
Rules are specific lower-level details that explain what a data user (or developer) is and isn’t allowed to do. Business data rules (also referred to as “business rules”) can be categorized into one of four types:
- These are the “things” that represent the business details that we measure, track, and analyze. (e.g. a customer, a purchase, a product).
- The details that describe the terms and related details about a business (e.g. The customer purchases a product, Products are sold at a store location).
- These are the details associated with the various items and actions within a company (e.g. The company can only sell a product that is in inventory).
- The distillation or generation of new rules based on other rules. (e.g. Rule: A product can be purchased or returned by a customer. Derivation: A product cannot be returned unless it was purchased from the company).
While the implementation of rules is often the domain of a data administration (or a logical data modeling) team, data governance is often responsible for establishing and managing the process for introducing, communicating, and updating rules.
The term quality is often referred to as “conformance to requirements”. Data Acceptance is a similar concept: the details (or rules) and process applied against data to ensure it is suitable for the use intended. The premise of data acceptance is identifying the minimum details necessary to ensure that data can be used or processed support the associated business activities. Some examples of data acceptance criteria include
- All data values must be non-null.
- All fields within a record must reflect a value within a defined range of values for that field (or business term).
- The product’s price must be a numeric value that is non-zero and non-negative.
- All addresses must be valid mailable addresses.
In order to correct, standardize, or cleanse data, data acceptance for a specific business value (or term) must be identified.
A Data Governance Mechanism is the method (or process) to identify a new rule, process, or detail to support Data Governance. The components of a mechanisms may include the process definition (or flow), the actors, and their decision rights.
This is an area where many Data Governance initiatives fail. While most Governance teams are very good in building new policies, rules, processes, and the associated rigor, they often forget to establish the mechanisms to allow all of the Governance details to be managed, maintained, and updated. This is critically important because as an organization evolves and matures with Data Governance, it may outgrow many of the initial rules and practices. Establishing a set of mechanisms to support modifying and updating existing rules and practices is important to supporting the growth and evolution of a Data Governance environment
The strength and success of Data Governance shouldn’t be measured by the quantity of rules or policies. The success of Data Governance is reflected by the adoption of the rules and processes that are established. Consequently, it’s important for the Data Governance team to continually measure and report adoption levels to ensure the Data Governance details are applied and followed. And where they challenges in adoption, mechanisms exist to allow stakeholders to adjust and update the various aspects of Data Governance to support the needs of the business and the users.
Data Governance will always be a polarizing concept. Whether introduced as part of a development methodology, included within a new data initiative, required to address a business compliance need, or positioned within a Data Strategy, Data Governance is always going to ruffle feathers.
Because folks are busy and they don’t want to be told that they need to have their work reviewed, modified, or approved. Data Governance is an approach (and arguably a method, practice, and process) to ensure that data usage and sharing aligns with policy, business rules, and the law. Data Governance is the “rules of the road” for data.
Data Strategy Component: Assemble
This blog is 4th in a series focused on reviewing the individual Components of a Data Strategy. This edition discusses the component Assemble and the numerous details involved with sourcing, cleansing, standardizing, preparing, integrating, and moving the data to make it ready to use.
The definition of Assemble is:
“Cleansing, standardizing, combining, and moving data residing in multiple locations and producing a unified view”
In the Data Strategy context, Assemble includes all of the activities required to transform data from its host-oriented application context to one that is “ready to use” and understandable by other systems, applications, and users.
Most data used within our companies is generated from the applications that run the company (point-of-sale, inventory management, HR systems, accounting) . While these applications generate lots of data, their focus is on executing specific business functions; they don’t exist to provide data to other systems. Consequently, the data that is generated is “raw” in form; the data reflects the specific aspects of the application (or system of origin). This often means that the data hasn’t been standardized, cleansed, or even checked for accuracy. Assemble is all of the work necessary to convert data from a “raw” state to one that is ready for business usage.
I’ve identified 5 facets to consider when developing your Data Strategy that are commonly employed to make data “ready to use”. As a reminder (from the initial Data Strategy Component blog), each facet should be considered individually. And because your Data Strategy goals will focus on future aspirational goals as well as current needs, you’ll likely want to consider different options for each. Each facet can target a small organization’s issues or expand to focus on a large company’s diverse needs.
Identification and Matching
Data integration is one of the most prevalent data activities occurring within a company; it’s a basic activity employed by developers and users alike. In order to integrate data from multiple sources, it’s necessary to determine the identification values (or keys) from each source (e.g. the employee id in an employee list, the part number in a parts list). The idea of matching is aligning data from different sources with the same identification values. While numeric values are easy to identify and match (using the “=” operator), character-based values can be more complex (due to spelling irregularities, synonyms, and mistakes).
Even though it’s highly tactical, Identification and matching is important to consider within a Data Strategy to ensure that data integration is processed consistently. And one of the (main) reasons that data variances continue to exist within companies (despite their investments in platforms, tools, and repositories) is because the need for standardized Identification and Matching has not been addressed.
Survivorship is a pretty basic concept: the selection of the values to retain (or survive) from the different sources that are merged. Survivorship rules are often unique for each data integration process and typically determined by the developer. In the context of a data strategy, it’s important to identify the “systems of reference” because the identification of these systems provide clarity to developers and users to understand which data elements to retain when integrating data from multiple systems.
Standardize / Cleanse
The premise of data standardization and cleansing is to identify inaccurate data and correct and reformat the data to match the requirements (or the defined standards) for a specific business element. This is likely the single most beneficial process to improve the business value (and the usability) of data. The most common challenge to data standardization and cleansing is that it can be difficult to define the requirements. The other challenge is that most users aren’t aware that their company’s data isn’t standardized and cleansed as a matter of practice. Even though most companies have multiple tools to cleanup addresses, standardize descriptive details, and check the accuracy of values, the use of these tools is not common.
Wikipedia defines reference data as data that is used to classify or categorize other data. In the context of a data strategy, reference data is important because it ensures the consistency of data usage and meaning across different systems and business areas. Successful reference data means that details are consistently identified, represented, and formatted the same way across all aspects of the company (if the color of a widget is “RED”, then the value is represented as “RED” everywhere – not “R” in product information system, 0xFF0000 in inventory system, and 0xED2939 in product catalog). A Reference Data initiative is often aligned with a company’s data strategy initiative because of its impact to data sharing and reuse.
The idea of movement is to record the different systems that a data element touches as it travels (and is processed) after the data element is created. Movement tracking (or data lineage) is quite important when the validity and accuracy of a particular data value is questioned. And in the current era of heightened consumer data privacy and protection, the need for data lineage and tracking of consumer data within a company is becoming a requirement (and it’s the law in California and the European Union).
The dramatic increase in the quantity and diversity of data sources within most companies over the past few years has challenged even the most technology advanced organizations. It’s not uncommon to find one of the most visible areas of user frustration to be associated with accessing new (or additional) data sources. Much of this frustration occurs because of the challenge in sourcing, integrating, cleansing, and standardizing new data content to be shared with users. As is the case with all of the other components, the details are easy to understand, but complex to implement. A company’s data strategy has to evolve and change when data sharing becomes a production business requirement and users want data that is “ready to use”.
Data Strategy Component: Provision
This blog is the 2nd in a series focused on reviewing the individual Components of a Data Strategy. This edition discusses the concept of data provisioning and the various details of making data sharable.
The definition of Provision is:
“Supplying data in a sharable form while respecting all rules and access guidelines”
One of the biggest frustrations that I have in the world of data is that few organizations have established data sharing as a responsibility. Even fewer have setup the data to be ready to share and use by others. It’s not uncommon for a database programmer or report developer to have to retrieve data from a dozen different systems to obtain the data they need. And, the data arrives in different formats and files that change regularly. This lack of consistency generates large ongoing maintenance costs and requires an inordinate amount of developer time to re-transform, prepare, fix data to be used (numerous studies have found that ongoing source data maintenance can take as much of 50% of the database developers time after the initial programming effort is completed).
Should a user have to know the details (or idiosyncrasies) of the application system that created the data to use the data? (That’s like expecting someone to understand the farming of tomatoes and manufacturing process of ketchup in order to be able to put ketchup on their hamburger). The idea of Provision is to establish the necessary rigor to simplify the sharing of data.
I’ve identified 5 of the most common facets of data sharing in the illustration above – there are others. As a reminder (from last week’s blog), each facet should be considered individually. And because your Data Strategy goals will focus on future aspirational goals as well as current needs, you’ll likely to want to review the different options for each facet. Each facet can target a small organization’s issues or expand to address a diverse enterprise’s needs.
This is the most obvious aspect of provisioning: structuring and formatting the data in a clear and understandable manner to the data consumer. All too often data is packaged at the convenience of the developer instead of the convenience of the user. So, instead of sharing data as a backup file generated by an application utility in a proprietary (or binary) format, the data should be formatted so every field is labeled and formatted (text, XML) for a non-technical user to access using easily available tools. The data should also be accompanied with metadata to simplify access.
This facet works with Packaging and addresses the details associated with the data container. Data can be shared via a file, a database table, an API, or one of several other methods. While sharing data in a programmer generated file is better than nothing, a more effective approach would be to deliver data in a well-known file format (such as Excel) or within a table contained in an easily accessible database (e.g. data lake or data warehouse).
Source data stewardship is critical in the sharing of data. In this context, a Source Data Steward is someone that is responsible for supporting and maintaining the shared data content (there several different types of data stewards). In some companies, there’s a data steward responsible for the data originating from an individual source system. Some companies (focused on sharing enterprise-level content) have positioned data stewards to support individual subject areas. Regardless of the model used, the data steward tracks and communicates source data changes, monitors and maintains the shared content, and addresses support needs. This particular role is vital if your organization is undertaking any sort of data self-service initiative.
This item addresses the issues that are common in the world of electronic data sharing: inconsistency, change, and error. Acceptance checking is a quality control process that reviews the data prior to distribution to confirm that it matches a set of criteria to ensure that all downstream users receive content as they expect. This item is likely the easiest of all details to implement given the power of existing data quality and data profiling tools. Unfortunately, it rarely receives attention because of most organization’s limited experience with data quality technology.
In order to succeed in any sort of data sharing initiative, whether in supporting other developers or an enterprise data self-service initiative, it’s important to identify the audience that will be supported. This is often the facet to consider first, and it’s valuable to align the audience with the timeframe of data sharing support. It’s fairly common to focus on delivering data sharing for developers support first followed by technical users and then the large audience of business users.
In the era of “data is a business asset” , data sharing isn’t a courtesy, it’s an obligation. Data sharing shouldn’t occur at the convenience of the data producer, it should be packaged and made available for the ease of the user.
So You Think You’re Ready for a Data Warehouse Appliance, Part 2
As I wrote in last week’s blog post, a data warehouse appliance simplifies platform and system resource administration. It doesn’t simplify the traditional time-intensive efforts of managing and integrating disparate data and addressing performance and tuning of various applications that contend for the same resources.
Many data warehouse appliance vendors offer sophisticated parallel processing environments, query optimization, and specialized storage structures to improve query processing (e.g., columnar-based engines). It’s naïve to think that taking data from an SMP (Symmetric Multi-Processing) relational database and moving it into a parallel processing environment will effectively scale without any adjustments or changes. Moving onto an appliance can be likened to moving into a new house. When you move into a new, larger house, you quickly learn that it’s not as simple as dumping all of your stuff into the new house. The different dimensions of the new rooms cause you realize that some of your old furniture or rugs simple don’t fit. You inevitably have to make adjustments if you want to truly enjoy your new home. The same goes with a data warehouse appliance; it likely has numerous features to support growth and scalability; you have to make adjustments to leverage their benefits.
Companies that expect to simply dump their data from a few legacy data marts over to a new appliance should expect to confront some adjustments or their likely to experience some unpleasant surprises. Here are some that we’ve already seen.
Everyone agrees that the biggest cost issue behind building a data warehouse is ETL design and development. Hoping to migrate existing ETL jobs into a new hardware and processing environment without expecting rework is short-sighted. While you can probably force fit your existing job streams, you’ll inevitably misuse the new system, waste system resources, and dramatically reduce the lifespan of the appliance. Each appliance has its own way of handling the intensive resource requirements of data loading – in much the same way that each incumbent database product addresses these same situations. If you’ve justified an appliance through the benefits of consolidating multiple data marts (that contain duplicate data), it only makes sense to consolidate and integrate the ETL processes to prevent processing duplication and waste.
To assume that because you’ve built your ETL architecture leveraging the latest and greatest ETL software technology that you won’t have to review the underlying ETL architecture is also misguided. While there’s no question that migrating tool-based ETL jobs to a new platform can be much easier than lower-level code, the issue at hand isn’t the source and destination– it’s the underlying table structures. Not every table will change in definition on a new platform, but the largest (and most used) table content is the most likely candidate for review and redesign. Each appliance handles data distribution and database design differently. Consequently, since the underlying table structures are likely to require adjustment, plan on a redesign of the actual ETL process too.
I’m also surprised by the casual attitude regarding technical training. After all, it’s just a SQL database, right? But application developers and data warehouse development staff need to understand the differences of the appliance product (after all, it’s a different database version or product). While most of this knowledge can be gained through reading the manuals – when was the last time the DBAs or database developers actually had a full-set of manuals—much less the time required to read them? The investment in training isn’t significant—usually just a few days of classes. If you’re going to provide your developers with a product that claims to bigger, better, and faster than its competitors, doesn’t it make sense to prepare them adequately to use it?
There’s also an assumption that—since most data warehouse appliance vendors are software-only—that there are no hardware implications. On the contrary, you should expect to change your existing hardware. The way memory and storage are configured on a data warehouse appliance can differ from a general-purpose server, but it’s still rare that the hardware costs are factored into the development plan. And believing that older servers can be re-purposed has turned out to be a myth. If you ‘re attempting to support more storage, more processing, and more users, how can using older equipment (with the related higher maintenance costs) make financial sense?
You could certainly fork-lift your data, leave all the ETL jobs alone, and not change any processing. Then again, you could save a fortune on a new data warehouse appliance and simply do nothing. After all, no one argues with the savings associated with doing nothing—except, of course, the users that need the data to run your business.
photo by Bien Stephenson via Flickr (Creative Commons License)
So You Think You’re Ready for a Data Warehouse Appliance
Many of our clients have asked us about whether it’s time to consider replacing their aging data warehouses with data warehouse appliance technologies. I chock up this emerging interest to the reality that data warehouse life spans are 3 to 4 years and platforms need to be refreshed. Given the recent crop of announcements by vendors like Oracle and Teradata along with the high visibility of newer players like Netezza, Paraccel, and Vertica.
The benefit of a data warehouse appliance is that includes all of the hardware and software in a preconfigured solution that dramatically simplifies running and managing a data warehouse. (Some of the vendors have taken that one step further and actually sell software that is setup to work with specially defined commodity hardware configurations). Given the price/performance differences between the established data warehouse products and the newer data warehouse appliances, it only makes sense that these products be considered as alternatives to simply upgrading the hardware.
The data warehouse appliance market is arguably not new. In the 1980s companies like Britton-Lee and Teradata argued that database processing was different and would perform better with purpose-designed hardware and software. Many have also forgotten these pioneers argued that the power of commodity microprocessors vastly exceeded the price/performance of their mainframe processor competitors.
The current-generation appliance vendors have been invited to the table because of the enormous costs that have evolved in managing the enormous data volumes and operational access associated with today’s data warehouses. Most IT shops have learned that database scalability doesn’t just mean throwing more hardware and storage at the problem. The challenge in managing these larger environments is understand the dynamics of the data content and the associated processing. That’s why partitioning the data across multiple servers or simply removing history doesn’t work – for every shortcut taken to reduce the data quantity, there’s an equal impact to user access and the single version of truth. This approach also makes data manipulation and even system support dramatically more complicated.
It’s no surprise that these venture capital backed firms would focus on delivering a solution that was simpler to configure and manage. The glossy sales message of data warehouse appliance vendors comes down’ to something like: “We’ve reduced the complexity of running a data warehouse.. Just install our appliance like a toaster, and watch it go!” There’s no question that many of these appliance vendors have delivered when it comes to simplifying platform management and configuration; the real challenge is addressing the management and configuration issues that impact a growing data warehouse: scalable load processing, a flexible data architecture, and manageable query processing.
We’ve already run into several early-adopters that think all that is necessary is to simply fork-lift their existing data warehouse structures onto their new appliance. While this approach may work initially, the actual longevity of the appliance – or its price/performance rationale will soon evaporate. These new products can’t work around bad data, poor design habits, and the limitations of duplicate data; their power is providing scalability across enormous data and processing volumes. An appliance removes the complexities of platform administration. But no matter what appliance you purchase, and no matter how much horsepower it has, data architecture and data administration are still required.
In order to leverage the true power of an appliance, you have to expect to focus effort towards integrating data in a structure that leverages the scalability strengths of the product. While the appliances are SQL-based, the way they process loads, organize data, and handle queries can be dramatically different than their incumbent data marts and data warehouses. It’s naïve to think that a new appliance can provide processing scalability without any adjustments. If it was that simple, the incumbent vendors would have already packaged that in their existing products.
In Part 2 of this post, I’ll elaborate on the faulty assumptions of many companies that acquire data warehouse appliances, and warn you against making these same mistakes.
photo by meddygarnet via Flickr (Creative Commons License)
Repurposing Your Data Warehouse Platform—Not!
I’ve noticed lately that data warehouse vendors are dusting off the arguments and pitches of days gone by. Don’t buy specialized hardware for your database needs! You’ll never be able to re-use the gear! One rep recently told a client, “With your data warehouse on our hardware, you can re-purpose the hardware at any time!”
The truth is, while data warehouse failures were rampant a few years ago, those failures are now the exception and not the rule. Data warehouses, once installed, tend to last a while. The good ones actually add more data over time and become more entrenched among user organizations. The great ones become strategic, and business people claim not to be able to do their jobs without them. A data warehouse platform is rarely for a single use, but for a multitude of needs. Data warehouses rarely just go away.
However don’t confuse an entrenched data warehouse with an entrenched data integration solution. I’ll teach a class at The Data Warehousing Institute conferences called “Architectural Options for Data Integration.” The class covers technologies like Enterprise Application Integration (EAI); Enterprise Information Integration (EII); Extract Transformation and Loading (ETL, and its sister, ELT); and Master Data Management (MDM). I present use cases for these different solutions as well as lists of the key vendors that offer them.
Attendees I talk to admit coming to the class with the intent of justifying the data warehouse as a multi-purpose integration system. They leave the class understanding the often-stark differences of these various solutions. And I hope they return to work with a different view of their future-state integration architectures, whether they re-purpose their hardware or not.
Note: Evan’s will be teaching Beyond the Data Warehouse: Architectural Options for Data Integration at the TDWI World Conference in San Diego on Thursday, August 6.