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Reference Data Management – Beyond Technology

Start with the seemingly mundane organizational code, add in years of stove-piped system development, combine with differing business needs, mix with organizational game playing and what do you get? Well for starters, a mess! But more seriously, federal IT managers get the thankless job of trying to untangle this mess because almost everything is reported by organizational structure in the federal government. And finding the “right” organizational structure is harder than agreeing on a federal budget.

In our role as BI consultants, we have worked with numerous federal agencies attempting to integrate and standardize critical organizational data. When we get involved, most clients have already bought the latest “silver-bullet” tool that will solve all of their problems. However, unless significant effort has been expended on organizational alignment, the tool, no matter how good, will fail to solve the business problem. We advise our client to look to the larger issue of data management.

Data management can be broadly classified as the policies, procedures, organization structure and technology used to manage an organization’s data. There are many different types of data but they can generally be classified as transactional data (for example, invoice amount) and non-transactional data (such as organizational structure, employees, and products).

Non-transaction data can be further divided into reference data and master data. The example cited above, organizational structure, is an example of reference data and is the focus of this and the next three articles.

The discipline of Reference Data Management provides a holistic approach to creating and using integrated reference data across the organization. It consists of processes and tools to identify, maintain, and provide enterprise-access to non-transactional data. The key aspects of reference data include:

  • Organizational Foundation.  An organization must have effective data governance as the foundation for reference data management. The data management policies, procedures and governance models underpin all subsequent practice areas.
  • Technical Solution.  With an effective organizational foundation, the technical solution can be build to identify, manage and provide enterprise access to the reference data entities. The technical solution specifies the processes, procedures, people, data architecture and technology for enterprise reference data management.
  • Organizational Integration.  The results of a solid organizational foundation and effective technical solution are the integration of key business processes. From a technical perspective, this is enabled by application integration using common reference data entities. From a business perspective, it is combination of people, process and technology used to manage business processes.

In subsequent entries, I will go into more detail for each of these areas.

by David McIntire, Director of Federal Consulting

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