Over the past year I’ve reviewed what seem like countless plans for enterprise data warehouses. The plans address real problems in the organizations involved: the organization needs better data to recognize trends and react faster to opportunities and challenges; business measures and analyses are unavailable because data in source systems is inconsistent, incomplete, erroneous, or contains current values but no history; and so on.
The plans detail source system data and its integration into a central data hub. But the ones I’m referring to don’t tell how the data will be delivered, or portray a specific vision of how the data is to drive business value. Instead, their business case rests on what I’ll call the “railroad hypothesis”. No one could have predicted how the railroads enabled development of the West, so the improved data infrastructure will create order of magnitude improvements in ability to access, share, and utilize data, from which order of magnitude business benefits will follow.* All too often these plans just build bridges to nowhere. Continue reading →
There’s an unfortunate and rather rude saying about assumptions that I’ve found popular among IT folks I’ve worked with. I say unfortunate because, to me, assumptions that are recognized early and handled the right way are a key to successful projects. Technical players who use assumptions well can help set projects on the right path long before they go astray.
Sometimes on waterfall and hybrid projects technical players are asked to estimate work early, before requirements are complete. My instinctive reaction is not to provide an ungrounded estimate, but that’s not helpful. The way to handle this uncomfortable uncertainty is to fill out the unknowns with assumptions: detailed, realistic statements that provide grounding for your estimate. Continue reading →
A quick Google search seems to reveal if you manage People, Process, and Technology you’ve got everything covered. That’s simply not the case. Data is separate and distinct from the things it describes — namely people, processes, and technologies — and organizations must separately and intentionally manage it.
The data management message seems a tough one to deliver effectively. Data management interest groups have hammered at it for years, but a sometimes preachy and jargon laden approach relying on data quality train wreck stories hasn’t generally loosened corporate purse strings. Yes, financial companies’ data-first successes in the 1990s paved the way for the ’00s dot com juggernauts, whose market capitalization stems largely from innovative data management. Yet, we still have huge personal data breaches at some of our most trusted companies, and data scientists spend the bulk of their valuable time acquiring, cleaning, and integrating poorly organized data.
The first steps are often the hardest, so here’s a short, no jargon, big picture guide to getting started with effective data management in three steps:
I had pondered writing a post called “Requirements Decay” about how requirements don’t last forever. In my research I found that such a post, complete with “my” words “requirements decay” and “requirements half-life”, had already been done comprehensively here. In a compact argument underpinned by half-life mathematics, the anonymous author proposes that a requirement isn’t likely to stand unchanged forever and explores the implications.
For me, requirements decay is an idea that helps us think realistically about project planning and improves our chances of meeting business needs. Continue reading →
The data integration process is traditionally thought of in three steps: extract, transform, and load (ETL). Putting aside the often-discussed order of their execution, “extract” is pulling data out of a source system, “transform” means validating the source data and converting it to the desired standard (e.g. yards to meters), and load means storing the data at the destination.
An additional step, data “enrichment”, has recently emerged, offering significant improvement in business value of integrated data. Applying it effectively requires a foundation of sound data management practices. Continue reading →
I believe that early, effective big picture diagrams are key to application development project success. According to the old saw, no project succeeds without a catchy acronym. Maybe so, but I’d say no project succeeds without a good big picture diagram. The question: what constitutes a good one? To me good high-level diagrams have four key characteristics: they are simple, precise, expressive, and correct.
I recently stumbled upon one of The Martin Agency’s hilarious Geico caveman ads and wondered, rather geekily, why they didn’t do one about data analysis. I think if a caveman suddenly arrived in the 2010s he or she would see parallels between his life and the activities of today’s knowledge worker. When I thought it through, it seemed obvious that knowledge workers need to be more like farmers and less like hunter/gatherers if they want to achieve the full potential of business intelligence.
I hold a strong prejudice that IT paradigms are useful for about 30 years. The PC was dominant from 1980 to 2010, “online” mainframe systems from 1970 to 2000, and so on. If that’s the case then time’s up for Bill Inmon’s data warehousing framework. So far no widely held pattern has emerged to help us envision data management in today’s big data, mobile BI, end-user visualization, predictive analytics world, but at their recent Business Technology conference, Forrester Research took a swing at it by presenting their 2009 “hub and spoke” organizational strategy as a data management vision. Continue reading →
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 →