Perspective 6: All About the Data (Part 1)

Now that we have wrapped up Perspective 5 around systems, we are ready to move forward to discuss the last perspective of the series, which is Data. I started my career as a software engineer and a database administrator, and it became clear to me in my career how important data is. Data can be extremely powerful to understand the functions of an organization. Data helps to bring clarity, evidence of trends and patterns, that can help drive decisions to transform organizations in many ways. Data can be very difficult to identify, and complicated to understand, depending on your organizational structure, but there are ways to identify and break data down to gain an understanding on how it is used in the organization.


So, what is this thing called data? According to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, data is “facts or information, especially when examined and used to find out things or make decisions”. Data Analysis and Analytics is definitely a hot topic in 2020 and I predict it will be for years to come. There are some individuals who love to analyze data and others who will prefer not, but I do believe we can all agree there is power in data.


For this perspective we will focus on:

1. How to identify data

2. Some tools to uncover and document data

3. How to analyze data - Introduction to data analytics


For this blog post we will start with how to identify data, and discuss one of the 4 tools I will be sharing.

How to Identify Data

As stated above finding data may be difficult, but here are some tips that have worked for me over the years to identify data as a business analyst, business subject matter expert, and database administrator:


Ask – work with your technology, or data partners, to determine what resources are available to identify and understand data. This could be data models, system architecture documents, or context diagrams as an example. These sorts of resources will help you identify the data sources. Also, you may have been capturing this information for the work you have done up to this point (process mapping, business rules, systems, etc.). Now you may encounter where your technology, or data partners may not give you the time of day, and I understand that. However, if you persevere to build the relationships with these partners and demonstrate how the collaboration will help the team be more efficient, as well as, provide more specific requirements, or business needs upfront, it can help alleviate some of the resistance. A couple of items to consider:

  • You may have to spend some time building relationships first before you go deeper into obtaining this information.

  • Make sure you are clear on why you desire this information.

Research – if your partners are not available you may have to do some research, and be creative with it. Locate any business and system documentation you may have. Analyze the documentation to start understanding data points, and then document your learnings. Through the research you will start to identify questions, and if you have direct/targeted questions for your technology partners then you may be able to get answers from them with less resistance as well.


As I mention documentation, as you are identifying data through your research and/or asking questions, here are some tools you can leverage to document the data you are obtaining (if the documentation does not already exist).


To demonstrate the different types of documentation, let’s use the example of interacting with your banking institution and create a data glossary.


Technique: Business Glossary

The purpose of a glossary is to ensure everyone has the same understanding on what certain terms mean and how they are use in the organization. This is a great way to level set your understanding of business terminology. Below I have listed a format and what is contained in a business glossary.

  • Term – a word, or group of words, that has a specific meaning.

  • Definition – the defined meaning of the word.

  • Data Type – the category of data defined by the value(s) it can take.

  • References – other terms that could be an alias, or reference, to the primary term.

Figure 1

It is extremely important everyone understands what the business terms mean. I have found where conversations have gone awry because of lack of clarity around terms. Don't assume that everyone in the organization has the same understanding as you do. Don't assume that your understanding is 100% right either.


In my next post I will expand on three more techniques that is leveraged to understand data. So, be on the look out for that.


Until next time, signing off,

The BA Martial Artist 🥋

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P.S. Sign-in and leave a comment, I would love to hear your comments.


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