Seven Data Words You Can’t Say…..

I was always a big fan of the late George Carlin.  There was a time when I could recite the entire “Class Clown” album during lunchtime at school (like George, I always saved my best stuff for lunchtime).   Of course, the crown jewel was the infamous “7 Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television”.  It was a masterpiece.  Alas, my time as an amateur comedian was a long time ago and short-lived as I chose the path of a data geek instead.  I learned that it’s hard to be funny when you model data for a living.

However, all these years later it occurred to me that there are a set of rather common terms that have become taboo in certain situations.  While not quite as universal as THE list, we’ve all encountered those situations where using some of the terms below was not such a good idea.  So, I submit to you (in no particular order) my own list of the “7 Data Terms You Can’t Use in the Boardroom” (sounds funnier in my head that it reads on paper):

  1. Warehouse
  2. Integration
  3. Mart
  4. Governance
  5. Owner
  6. Breach
  7. Meta

While all of these terms are quite common and mostly innocuous, many of us have been in situations where we are addressing executives who have had a bad experience leaving a lasting (often costly) impression on them.  Let’s take data warehouse as an example.  I’ve lived in and around the DW/BI space for most of my career.  I can’t tell you how many companies I have been in where I was coached not to use the term “warehouse” when talking about building a data warehouse.  “We’ve tried that a couple of times and it didn’t work – the CIO lost his job because we didn’t get what we expected out of it…” – or something to that effect.

Integration can easily make the hair on the back of an exec’s neck stand up.  It’s the root of so many problems and, in one way or another, consumes a great deal of resources and budget.  Integrating data between systems, integrating data from disparate sources into a central repository for reporting all spell technical complexity, lots of time to implement and expensive.

Mart is hit-or-miss.  Sometimes it’s a good thing and solves a targeted analysis need.  But, when you add “proliferation of” to the term it spells complexity, confusion and points back to the integration problem further compounding the negative implication of the term.

As we move down the list, I am seeing more and more companies shy away from the term governance.  While it’s clearly recognized that governance is needed and even required, the term itself is seen as overhead, a drain on resources and instituting more controls and rules than an organization is used to.

Going hand-in-hand with governance is the notion of a data owner.  Just try and get someone to step up and admit that they own a piece of data.  I’ve even had one company insist that the customer owns the data that describes themselves.  It just happens to be stored in this company’s systems.  Sure owning data creates accountability, but doesn’t it also bring empowerment to address any issues that arise?  Come on people, step up!

Breach is just terrifying.  This one keeps a lot of execs up at night and you may incur the wrath of chief compliance officers if used in the wrong situation.  Of course, without proper governance your company name could end up as a headline in the WSJ right along with the term – quite the conundrum.

Meta, while more of a prefix than a word itself, is taboo as data about data isn’t very widely understood in the boardroom.  So, we have data about the data that we can’t integrate between our data marts and data warehouse.  So, who owns the data about data?  Can we govern it?

Humor (my version of it anyway) aside, we need to get a handle on Big Data and not let it end up on the extended list of forbidden data words.  Let’s not let the hype override the objective of using the tools, methods, and assets at our disposal (data of all types being among those assets) to create business value.  Business must be agile to thrive in today’s ultra-competitive landscape.  In order to be agile, you must have a clear vision of what you are trying to achieve, create the right strategy to reach those objectives and execute against that strategy.  Big Data hasn’t changed that – it’s just made it more complicated.  So, as we prepare for Integrated Big Master Data Governance in the Cloud…   just kidding.


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