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Data Management - Same Old, Same Old?

  • February 23 2006, 1:00am EST

This month's column is contributed by Larry Dziedzic, past president of DAMA International.

Dave Hay, a noted data management author and speaker, once commented at a DAMA New Jersey meeting that there is really nothing new in data management - just new ways to look at it. His statement got a round of applause from some and a few looks indicating that he might be off his rocker from others. I was one of those applauding. I believed then, and still believe now there are really few things new in data management (DM), just different ways of looking at them. What has changed is the "spin" that new methodologies and software tools are placing on DM.

It has been almost three decades since what I believe was the last revolution in DM - that being the data dictionary or data repository. None of the methodologies or tools developed since then have resolved the core problems of data ownership, source origination, transformation requirements, etc. These tools and methodologies are often band-aids that hide the wounds but do not address the underlying core information problems.

For many years, John Zachman has proposed that the business capture all the pertinent information about the "what, how, where, who and why" of projects, and many DM professionals have worked to do exactly that - often organizing the information in a repository. Traditionally, the timelines and milestones for database and data warehouse projects left little room for data management concerns, because upper management often did not see such activities as adding value to the organization.

The attitude of some upper management has changed over the last four years. Criminal activity has ushered in Sarbanes-Oxley (along with a host of information-intensive activities), and terrorist acts spurred the PATRIOT Act, with its accompanying information reporting requirements. Because of the need to capture, accurately document and leverage information, the data repository has once again moved to the forefront, and people who previously had little interest in DM are now calling themselves data and information architects. Phrases such as " business-driven information," "collaborative efforts across the organizations," and "architecture improves the effectiveness and efficiency of information resources" are used freely. But what everyone is really saying is this: "Capture this information into reusable models and put it into a place where everyone can leverage it."

There is no silver bullet for data capture (although organizations have and will continue to look for one). If the work to populate a repository with pertinent and relative information had been done up front, there would now be limited interest in and little need for new tools to scrub, massage or transform data. New information and service architecture methodologies would not be needed because the information would already be captured and documented - which is exactly what must be done now.

There is a good side to this recent emphasis on data capture and the new software packages. They heighten interest and awareness in DM. Thus, it behooves all of us involved in DM to take advantage of this current wave. It is extremely important to find ways to work with the business customer to show the value of capturing information in a repository up front and ensure that you can provide that information back to the customer in a manner that works for them. Highlighting the repository as the critical aspect of the capture will allow for reuse and leveraging of the business information. Make sure the repository has the functions you need to assist in getting your business' information loaded and easily reported. Ensure the repository's extensibility features will allow you to represent your business needs.

If you have not had much experience in data management or wish to learn what your peers are doing, I suggest that you attend The DAMA International Symposium & Wilshire Meta-Data Conference April 23-27 and/or you join one of the 23 DAMA chapters around the world. For additional information regarding the conference or membership, please visit

The scope of this writing was purposely narrow, and was not meant to trivialize the importance and impact of many DM improvements (e.g., object-oriented, XML, etc.). The narrow scope was intended to focus attention on the importance of behind-the-scenes work - i.e., business process modeling and metadata management - that must be done competently and completely to have the best possible outcomes.

Larry Dziedzic is past president of DAMA International. He may be reached at

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