When I started my career in data administration, it was explained that one of my tasks would be to obtain definitions of entities and attributes from business users. These definitions, I was told, had to be sufficiently specific and complete so that anyone in our enterprise could understand them, no matter where they appeared in reports, screens or specifications. In addition, I was reminded that the law of atomicity meant that there could only be one definition for each entity and attribute.

All this seemed very logical at the time. It was an approach intended to bring clarity and uniformity to the data resource of any enterprise. Sloppy and inconsistent definitions would be eliminated, and everyone would know exactly what to expect from a particular piece of data. Sharing and exchange of data would be facilitated and made more reliable. Also, although this remained largely unspoken, the lives of data administrators would be made much easier. After all, how would we ever cope if one data item had more than one definition? It seemed illogical and completely against the prevailing spirit pervading data management.

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