Monday, July 21, 2008

July 28, 2008


The purpose of a "Data Taxonomy" is to classify data so it can be standardized, shared and reused in multiple systems. This is a concept we first introduced with the advent of the "PRIDE"-Data Base Engineering Methodology (DBEM) in 1987.

The standardization of data definitions is a major problem in I.T. departments around the world. Instead of defining the characteristics of a data element one time and reusing it over and over again, most companies redefine data with each application. Consequently, inconsistent results begin to emerge (sometimes referred to as "Dirty Data"). For example, I know of one state government who conservatively estimated "Net Pay" was defined over 100 different ways in their organization. Not only does this lead to inconsistencies and erroneous information, it also inhibits the implementation of change. Does anybody remember the Y2K problem a few years ago when teams of developers tracked through voluminous program libraries to find and correct dates? Had date-related data elements been properly defined and cataloged to begin with, this would never have been a problem.

There are three reasons for redundant data definitions:

  1. The lack of an effective tool to define and cross-reference data elements. This was the intent of the "Data Dictionary" which was later referred to as "Encyclopedia" or "Repository" (in "PRIDE" we call it the "Information Resource Manager"). Today, there are numerous interpretations of the Data Dictionary, all providing basic support for cataloging data elements and showing where each element is used in records, files, and programs. If such tools are currently available, why do we still have a problem? This leads us to #2.

  2. Companies lack the foresight or will to standardize on data definitions. You may recall my telling of the story from years ago when India had a serious problem with famine. To help solve the problem, the Americans sent tons of seed-grain to India for planting. Instead of planting and harvesting the grain, the Indians ate the seeds. You cannot harvest what you do not plant. The same is true in defining data. The real benefits are long term in nature and requires an upfront investment in time required to properly define data elements. But once the data has been properly defined, this intelligence can be used over and over again in as many systems as you can imagine. The problems of data sharing and systems integration as mentioned above are eliminated; even better, application development time is reduced as data definitions are reused.

    The only problem here is that it requires management vision and commitment to its implementation. The reality, however, is most companies are shortsighted and content with defining data over and over again with each application.

  3. The third reason is that people simply do not know how to properly define data elements. Most application developers only look at it through the programmer's eyes and rarely consider data beyond its program label.

This is where we come in.


Sharing and reusing data doesn't happen by accident. There has to be a premeditated and concerted effort introduced. In other words, data must be defined in a consistent manner making data sharing not only feasible, but a natural part of the development process. To do so, management needs to create a standardized and methodical approach for defining data elements and enforcing its use on a corporate basis. Fortunately, there are some simple techniques to help in this regard.

The management of any resource requires the development of a classification system. Financial resources are typically arranged according to a chart of accounts; material and human resources are categorized by type. In science, everything from chemical elements to the animal kingdom are organized according to a class structure. There obviously is a purpose to uniquely identify common elements; which is to provide for the ability to distinguish one from another, and eliminate redundancy. In all instances, classification is based on the inherent characteristics of the component.

To classify data elements, we must have an appreciation of data's logical and physical properties. "Logical" properties refer to the business purpose of the data and includes such things as a dictionary-like definition, along with its "source" (for "primary" values, where it originates from in the company; for "generated" values, the other data elements used in its calculation); and "type" (how used for Indicative, Descriptive, or Quantitative purposes). "Physical" properties refers to how data is to be recorded, stored and presented to the user, and includes such things as programming labels, length, validation/editing rules, etc. Understand this, a data element has only one logical definition but can have multiple physical expressions; e.g., how dates and currencies are expressed, or different program labels for COBOL, C++, etc. (more on this shortly).


A Data Taxonomy is simply a hierarchical structure separating data into specific classes of data based on common characteristics. The taxonomy represents a convenient way to classify data to prove it is unique and without redundancy. This includes both primary and generated data elements.


The objective is to eliminate redundancies and promote sharing/integration

DOMAIN - Elements with similar characteristics

The lowest level in the classification hierarchy represents what is commonly referred to as the "domain" of a collection of data elements, one or more, with common characteristics. For example, "text" related data elements would be in one domain, "weights" in another, "percentages" in another, "monetary values" in another, etc.

The domain also defines the standard physical characteristics and values the data may assume. For example, we could establish that all "location" values are alphanumeric, left justified, with blank fill and void characters. In other words, data elements such as "Address," "City," and "Country" should assume these physical characteristics for consistency. If a data element does not have the standard logical and physical characteristics, it must belong to another "domain."

In the situation where a data element has only one logical definition, but multiple physical definitions, its primary physical definition must first conform to the Domain standards before it can be deviated from in an application record. In other words, the primary physical representation of "Unit Cost" is expressed as an eight character numeric to conform to the "currency" domain. However, in one application, a user desires the data element be expressed as a ten character numeric. It is the same logical data element with just another form of physical expression.

With a classification system in place, data elements can then be uniquely and consistently defined. When this is done, we then have a basis for checking data redundancy. Also, when a data element has been properly specified in this manner, it becomes rather simple to locate it in other applications.


To expedite data definition, developers should be provided a "Guidance System" to prompt them through the proper classification of a data element. This can be used to either define a new data element or validate the integrity of an existing data definition. The "Guidance System" follows the hierarchy of the Data Taxonomy which records the characteristics of the data element until it finds its domain. The result is a uniquely defined data element suitable for sharing and use in multiple systems. At this point, the data definition should be locked to prohibit changes from occurring either accidentally of intentionally. For those of you considering the purchase of a data dictionary/repository, this is a highly desirable feature.


Classifying data as described herein represents a discipline which can be performed voluntarily by developers. However, safeguards should be added to enforce proper usage. A couple of suggestions come to mind: First, data definitions should be reviewed and approved by a neutral party. Whereas system developers will be charged with identifying the need for data elements, the Data Resource Management department should inspect and approve all data definitions. Second, get system developers out of the data base design business and leave this to the Data Resource Management department. After all, developers will only do what is necessary for their specific application and not necessarily what is best for the company overall. To enforce this, all file structures should come from the Data Resource Management department and nowhere else. As an example, years ago we enforced such a policy over programmers by controlling the COBOL copybooks.

With an enforceable discipline in place, your chances for success have increased radically.


Classifying data helps to fulfill one of the major objectives of Data Resource Management: to eliminate redundancy and promote the reuse of data in systems. The initial investment in documenting data elements pales in comparison to the long-term benefits derived from the effort. For example, integrated systems assures consistent results ("Clean Data") and simplifies maintenance and implementing changes; and, ultimately leads to reduced time in systems development. But make no mistake, the benefits of classifying data are long term in nature, not short term.

But why stop at data elements? Why not classify and reuse all information resources and put an end to the redundancy issue once and for all? I can build a compelling argument for classifying records, files, inputs, outputs, programs, modules, business processes, etc. From this perspective, a "Data Taxonomy" should be superseded by a "Resource Taxonomy" which considers all information resources, not just data. But who am I kidding? This will only work if management wakes up and has the foresight to develop a long-range plan to manage information resources. Unfortunately, most will continue to think on a short-term basis and continue to eat the seeds.

If you would like to discuss this with me in more depth, please do not hesitate to send me an e-mail.

Keep the faith!

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...

"You must first plant the seeds in order to harvest the crop."


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While there, look for our MS PowerPoint presentation describing both the book and the training program.


Is it just me or does it seem there are more people pissed off these days? There doesn't seem to be any more chuckles, no fun, no sense of achievement, no conquests, just survival. I can't remember the last time I ran into someone in business or socially who said, "Business is great, we're knocking them dead!" or "Wow, good news, wait until you hear this!" And you have to remember that I know a lot of people in a lot of different businesses, in a lot of different places. No, there seems to be more doom and gloom these days. The excitement is gone, and we seem to be enveloped in a depressing dark cloud. Even the jokes I read on the Internet these days are stale and are more politically correct than funny. It makes you wonder if we have lost our sense of humor.

If my thesis is correct, you have to wonder what is causing us to change. Is it generational or some sort of social change? If you look around I guess there's not a lot to be cheerful about these days:

  • Bankruptcies and foreclosures are up.
  • The unemployment rate is up (and we still ship jobs overseas).
  • Inflation is up and we're taking less home these days.
  • Divorce is up, and interestingly the marriage rate is down.
  • We're losing market share in several industrial sectors to foreign competition.
  • The economy is sagging and we're rightfully worried about our portfolios.
  • We're frustrated in the use of ever changing technology.
  • We have a pending presidential election in the offing with candidates that are more ho-hum than inspiring.

Bottom-line, nothing seems to be working for us lately. There also seems to be less enthusiasm and positive thinking in the workplace. For example, people are more apt to engage in callous arguments as opposed to rational discourse. People commuting to work look more like the march of the zombies as opposed to an invigorated workforce. Maybe its because they are being micromanaged to death.

Then we hear about such things as road rage, sports rage, work rage, and shootings in our schools and businesses. People seem to "snap" more readily than in years past and some accept it as normal behavior. Sorry, it's not.

The fact we can't build prisons fast enough is indicative that being mad seems to be contagious and has perhaps reached epidemic proportions. We either need to start passing out the chill pills or find some outlets to harmlessly vent our rage. For example, in Japan it is customary not to be confrontational with your boss. Basically, you must "bite your tongue." Realizing this might cause worker frustration, Japanese businesses may have a small room where the employee can go into and beat the boss in effigy with a bamboo stick, thereby releasing some steam. This may seem a little strange, but it has proven to be effective.

As the producers of Monty Python's "Spamalot" said at the show's opening, "We need silly." I tend to believe this. People are much too uptight these days. A little sense of humor in this day and age can go a long way to relieving tension. Even something as simple as a compliment can help relieve stress, as well as a sincere, "Good morning; how are you?" But for some reason we have forgotten these simple pleasantries which promote cooperation and goodwill. I guess what I'm saying is that it is time to unplug the iPods, close the cell phones, and learn to be civil again. In other words, lighten up.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.


Folks, a couple of years ago I started to include my "Pet Peeve of the Week" in these "Management Visions" podcasts. They have become so popular that I now syndicate them through the Internet and they are available for republication in other media. To this end, I have created a separate web page for my writings which you can find at Look for the section, "The Bryce is Right!" Hope you enjoy them.

Also, if you happen to be in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, be sure to stop by and check out our new Palm Harbor Business OASIS, a new business venue offering local business people a place to meet, work, network, and relax. Why pay a lot for leasing office space when you can become a member of the OASIS for as little as $100/month? For more information, visit our web site at:


I received the following e-mail regarding my article on "Admitting a Mistake":

An E.B. in Phoenix, Arizona wrote...

"It is so hard to admit that you have made a mistake, and I think it is harder in today's work scenarios. It also depends on your position, your co-workers, and the type of company or service you provide. Some working with the public, couldn't care less, and I wonder if their superiors know how they really do their job. It is also just as hard to admit a an error in one's personal life. I agree it makes things much better if one does own up to it. Nice article."

An E.A. in Midland, Michigan wrote...

"Good notes on making a mistake. I was fortunate not to make too many mistakes in my career but did get in over my head a few times from volume of work. I must have been lucky since my bosses never penalized me and it usually turned into a positive experience. And you are right about letting the boss know before it is a crisis. All of my bosses and myself as a boss appreciated the heads up that there was a problem and it was done timely enough that it could be managed. Keep up the good work."

I received the following e-mails from my "Pet Peeve" entitled, "Polls":

An M.O. in San Diego, California wrote...

"74.6% of Gather readers whose last names start with S and live in Mississippi think you are correct! LOL Your stuff is always interesting reading. Thanks."

An M.O. also responded to my essay on "Recognizing the Peter Principle":

"In the Navy we saw the Peter priciple in action all the time... sadly I saw it violated with terrible results each time. Thanks for the refresher course on the Peter Principle."

Again, thanks for your comments. For these and other comments, please visit my "Bryce is Right!" web site.

Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567.

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Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

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This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."


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