Take Responsibility for the Data Model

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I was talking to a group of data architects about how to review a data model using the Data Model Scorecard. The Scorecard contains 10 categories that validate the strengths and areas for improvement in a data model concerning requirements, good design principles and standards. A senior data architect asked if there should be an eleventh category that could determine how well the data model was actually used.

For example, a data modeler builds a data model that meets the requirements and is structurally sound and therefore should receive good marks from the Data Model Scorecard. Yet in the end, the model is not used or not used properly, and therefore would be penalized through this eleventh category.

Should the data modeler be held responsible if their model was not used (or not used properly)? If yes, why? If no, who should be responsible?

Most of the Design Challengers who weighed in on this challenge believe the data modeler should not be held responsible. In fact, 64 percent think the data modeler is not responsible. Thirty-six percent believe the data modeler is responsible, especially if he or she did not properly explain and market the model.

Data Modeler Is Not Responsible

The data modeler usually has no authority over database administrators and developers. To quote Bruce Baum, global data architect, "The data modeler is a contributor, not a rules/standards/methodology enforcer." Data Architect Missy Wittmann adds that factors completely outside the control of the data modeler (such as budgeting and resource constraints) can impact whether the model gets used. Jeff Dallara, data management lead, summarizes with this analogy, "If an architect creates blueprints for the proper design of a house, specifying all the load bearing and design requirements, and someone builds a house without regard to those blueprints, and the house falls down, would you hold the architect responsible? I think not, especially if it could be shown that all of the architect's specifications, if followed, would not let the house fall down. Same holds true for the data modeler. You don't use the model, you take your chances."

So who should be responsible? Trevor Hodges, information management consultant, believes that the data governance or executive group is responsible for ensuring data models are used correctly. Dan Bartoes, data architect, and Richard Leach, data specialist, believe the project manager is responsible. Developer Peter Heller believes those who implement the model should be responsible for its correct use.

Data Modeler Is Responsible - If the Model Was Not Properly Explained

Data Architect Jan Cohen says, "The data modeler is the one person who has to make the data model an important cog in the business machinery." Rich Kier, another data architect, admits this can be challenging to do: "A good modeler should be able to explain the benefits of their model to the rest of the team and increase adoption, but not all modelers are as good at pitching an idea as [they are at] normalizing a database, and not all developers are open-minded enough to listen." Mark Taylor, data strategy manager, encourages the modeler to accept this challenge: "As the person who knows the model best, the modeler is ideally placed to advocate for the model and should be expected to do that."

Professor Emeritus Gordon Everest emphasizes the data modeler's responsibility. "It is up to the data modeler to engage the users, to extract from them a description of their world and to reflect that in a data model. Then the modeler needs to document and present the data model to the users in a way that they can comprehend, and thus, validate it. This is similar to the question: Who is responsible if a student does not learn the material or skill in a course they are taking? I say, the responsibility falls mainly on the teacher, not the student." Mehmet Orun, senior manager and data architect, adds: "The modeler has a responsibility not just to produce a good model in isolation. [He must] then be proactive in presenting the information based on the needs of the audience." Data Architect Moshe Japha also supports this view: "If the reason the model wasn't used is that the developers did not understand the purpose of the columns and tables or that the modeler did not spend adequate time explaining the model, then yes, the modeler should be penalized."

Dave Wells, consultant, mentor and teacher, offers this succinct summary: "I think you have to dig deeper than the simple fact of non-use or misuse of a data model to determine responsibility. Ask first what use should have occurred: To communicate business rules? To document and verify requirements? To design a database? Once the kind of use is known, ask who should have used the data model; this person may bear some responsibility for non-use or misuse. [Consider the effect of] a renegade developer, maybe with inadequate data governance practices and processes, or perhaps a combination of the two."

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