In my December 1997 column, I described several data stewardship roles. The designer establishes standards for the data element names and incorporates them into the system model; and the builder, with responsibility for the physical schema, incorporates these elements into the physical databases and tables with consideration for the technical environment and associated standards. Ultimately, the end users populate physical tables and are accountable for the quality of the data they enter. With a stewardship program in place delineating these responsibilities, the content of data elements in the data warehouse is likely to match the label. Within the legacy systems, however, this is not always the case. To effectively address the problem of misleading labels, both short-term and long-term solutions are needed. The short-term solution is one that enables a data warehouse team, for example, to build the data warehouse without being bogged down with repairing the legacy environment. The long-term solution is one that prevents the recurrence of the problem in the future.
The short-term solution to misleading labels is for the data warehousing team to perform source system analysis so that the true meaning of the data in each field can be determined. This analysis requires more than just looking at a data dictionary (if one exists). It requires looking at the data and talking to users of the system so that any abuses of the element can also be unearthed. Once the analysis is complete, the element can be mapped to the appropriate field in the data warehouse model.
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