A number of customers have asked me recently about the benefits of using a business glossary product over using a spreadsheet or Sharepoint. The discussion is worth sharing.
If you have a smaller company and all you need is a list of standard business terms to provide a common business vocabulary across the company, a spreadsheet or Sharepoint can work, …up to a point. The problem is that once your organization reaches a certain size, you are going to have trouble scaling the management of the business terms, making them available across a larger organization, and fostering collaboration based on the agree-upon business terms.
The use of a built-for-purpose business glossary product can help to improve your organization’s efficiency in ways that a spreadsheet or Sharepoint just can’t match. Here are seven reasons why you should be strongly considering the use of a business glossary in your organization.
- No built-in collaboration. Wouldn’t it be nice if your business glossary enabled collaboration across your organization rather than just being a “dumb” list of terms? A good business glossary has built-in tools to foster rich communication and collaboration between business and IT and between different business units based on a commonly understood business vocabulary.
- No ability to link to the underlying technical metadata. Here is where things get really interesting. Once you link a business term to its corresponding technical data object, such as for example a column in a database table, then you then have a common language to communicate quickly and accurately between business and IT. When this link is established all ambiguity is removed from requests such as, “Can we change the way ‘Gross Margin’ is calculated?” There is no longer any need to ask the requestor, which Gross Margin (finance, sales, accounting, etc.) the requestor is referring to.
- No ability to provide broad access to terms across the organization. Sharing a common spreadsheet can work in small groups, but what happens when you want to let the rest of the organization to have access to the correct terms? Anybody who reads company reports would need to have access as well as IT developers who might want to refer to the business definitions of technical data objects to make sure that they understand the context of a request. One large financial services company has told me that the average analyst in their organization spends 15% of their time answering routine questions about the meaning of terms or which term is the correct term to use. A good business glossary should provide a service for anybody in the organization (with authorization) to look up terms.
- Harder to make data fields mandatory. If people can just fill out the fields they want in a spreadsheet you run the risk of missing critical inputs on certain business terms. For example: What if there is no data entered to show the business owner and the data steward for a business term? In this case, there would be no accountability for the freshness or accuracy of the business term. The ability to require full business context for a business term is an essential part of any data management initiative.
- No ability to drill down into data lineage or impact analysis. Data lineage gives you a visual diagram of the flow of data through your environment. Impact analysis shows you the impact of a proposed change before it is made. Not everybody in your organization needs (or should have) access to this level of detail. However, wouldn’t it be a good thing if the professionals who are managing your common business vocabulary had access to these tools to ensure accuracy and reduce the chance of a mistake that could result in bad data in your environment?
- Data Stewardship. There comes a point in an organization’s growth when it becomes important or even mandatory (think regulatory compliance) for the company to start managing their data as a corporate asset. A good business glossary should enable data stewards to take control of your common business vocabulary and to manage it in a professional manner through its lifecycle while adding valuable business context. This is the beginnings of a data governance initiative.
- No ability to integrate reference data. Business terms are often closely linked to reference data. For instance, customers may have “gold,” “silver,” and “bronze” status, but what do those terms mean and how exactly are they defined? It is important to have reference data linked to the relevant business terms. This will enable the data owners and data stewards to provide business context and to manage definitions around the terms and the corresponding reference data.
The larger and more complex your organization and product lines become the more important it is to have a built-for-purpose business glossary to manage your common business vocabulary and to enable your business staff to provide the appropriate business context to the projects and changes you are working on. A business glossary is a key collaboration and productivity tool for your organization.
At the end of the day, the goal of any IT organization is to deliver trustworthy data in support of informed business decisions and processes. A strong business glossary tool is an important step along this path.