Data management professionals have long and sometimes rather Quixotically driven organizations to “get past the spreadsheet culture.” Maybe that’s misguided. The recent furor over a widely read social science paper may show how we can look to scientific peer review for a way to govern data, spreadsheets and all.
Recently, it was found that a key study underpinning debt-reduction as a driver of economic growth based its conclusions on a flawed spreadsheet. As this ArsTechnica article describes, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff’s Growth in a Time of Debt seemingly proved a connection between “high levels of debt and negative average economic growth”. But, per a recent study by Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin, it turns out that the study’s conclusions drew from a Microsoft Excel formula mistake, questionable data exclusions, and non-standard weightings of base data. The ArsTechnica piece finds those conclusions fade to a more ambiguous outcome with errors and apparent biases corrected. Continue reading →
This is the latest entry in an occasional series on followership. The premise, as stated here, is that not everyone gets to be a leader, and most leaders are also followers in their own right. The project manager follows instructions from the project sponsor, the CEO from the board, the politicians from the polls, and so on. Whoever you are, you spend a lot more time following than leading. As Bob Dylan put it so well, “you gotta serve somebody.”
The good follower is not a “yes man“. In the professional world I inhabit those who move “up” the hierarchy tend to retire technical skills in favor of architecture, proposal writing, and management. The relationship of manager to employee becomes more like agent to actor or musician, where the supervised employee is the “talent”.
In these conditions the old concept of top-down decision making seems quaint. Important choices require information from all perspectives, and organizations shut out those with knowledge of the details at their peril. The best decision makers search out diverse ideas before choosing a direction. Continue reading →
Out of curiosity I recently reviewed articles critical of Agile Methodologies. I had expected agile-versus-waterfall arguments and attacks from vendors selling new alternatives, but even given the reputation that advocates have for flaming well-intentioned critics, I wasn’t prepared for the level of emotion I found.
My opening position was that Agile techniques are great, but like any other tool there are limits and prerequisites. The critical articles I read strengthened that view. Let’s review three examples that stood out, in reverse order: Continue reading →
Recently I read a thoughtful post
at the PASS Business Analytics Conference site discussing how different the world is now for database professionals. Author Chris Webb focuses on the data science side in this post. His analysis made me think of the challenges and opportunities “big data” serves up to relational database designers.
To me these challenges are fundamental. Big Data and NoSQL bring lots of what we know about data elements, inherent data design, and data management into question. I think considering these elements closely leads to a sensible to-do list for relational database professionals. Continue reading →
As important as it is, data modeling has always had a geeky, faintly impractical tinge to some. I’ve seen application development projects proceed with a suboptimal, “good enough”, model. The resulting systems might otherwise be well-architected, but sometimes strange vulnerabilities emerge that track directly to data design flaws.
Recently I saw an example where a “good enough” data design, similar to the one pictured, enabled a significant application bug.
Recently the BBC posted this video. On first view it is just funny, but watching those dogs learn to drive really reminded me of personal experiences with IT teams making big learning transitions. To represent those real situations let’s consider a fictional team of SQL developers facing the daunting task of deploying a functional Hadoop-based analytics prototype in two months. The video parallels their critical learning success factors: (1) set audacious goals, (2) learn bit by bit, and (3) know your limits.
One common theme in recent tectonic shifts in information technology is data management. Analyzing customer responses may require combing through unstructured emails and tweets. Timely analysis of web interactions may demand a big data solution. Deployment of data visualization tools to users may dictate redesign of warehouses and marts. The data architect is a key player in harnessing and capitalizing on new data technologies. Continue reading →
In some presentations, I assert that top-down data modeling should result in not only a business-consistent model but also a pretty well normalized model.
One of the basic concepts behind normalization is functional dependency. In layperson’s terms, functional dependency means separating entities from each other and putting attributes into the obviously correct entity. For example, a business person knows that item color doesn’t belong in the order table because it describes the item, not the order. Everyone knows that the order isn’t green! Continue reading →
Recently I was in a conversation about data modeling standards. I confess that I’m not really the standards type. I understand the value of standards and especially how important it is to follow them so others can interpret and use work products. It is just that I prefer to focus on understanding of the principles behind the standards. In general, it seems to me that following standards is trivial for someone who understand the principles, but impossible for someone who doesn’t. But there doesn’t seem to be general understanding of data modeling principles. Continue reading →
When Tom Petty sang, “Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out” he wasn’t referring to business intelligence (BI) reporting but he might have been. Current generation reporting engines, AKA data visualization or data discovery tools, market their products with statements like these, emphasizing quick development and ease of use:
“The democratization of data is here. In minutes, create an interactive viz (sic) and embed it in your website. Anyone can do it— and it’s free.” (Tableau Products Page)
“Easy yet sophisticated report design empowers your employees to design professional and telling reports in minutes not days” (Windward)
I like these tools, and I do believe that they can provide a leaner, more productive, and more informative approach to BI reporting than some more mature products. However, none is a silver bullet for all data integration and reporting woes. Continue reading →