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The Data Czar: Finding the Birthplace of Your Data

July 20, 2009
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By uniquely tagging each piece of data in a process, we can do almost anything and have a permanent record of that action and how it relates to other processes. We can pin down the birthplace of each piece of data-how it was created, who created it and what format it was created in. When each piece of data is created once and tagging it uniquely, we can ensure that it is routed efficiently through the rest of the system.



At some point in our lives, whether for a school project or out of personal interest, many of us have traced our roots on a family tree. We’ve located our great-grandfathers and grandmothers, uncles, aunts, cousins and long-lost nephews and nieces, and placed their names on the branches of the tree to establish the relationships we share with each of them.

An organization’s processes can be thought of as a family tree-a series of interconnected relationships that have roots. You can even diagram these processes in a similar way by listing each process (instead of family names) at the ends of branches.

For example, here’s a simplified process for a surveying and mapping firm:

Client -> Accounting Office -> Field -> Survey Office -> Mapping Office -> Survey Office -> Client

This process indicates that a client requested a survey, a contract was created and a survey performed. The raw data was brought back to the office and processed. The survey map was then prepared, signed by the surveyor and delivered to the client.

Of course this is a rudimentary example; actual process diagrams should be much more involved and have multiple interactions with each other rather than being listed in a series. In a real process, each segment-the client, accounting, field etc.-will contain data. Try to find and list the data sets that comprise each of these individual processes.

In the client process example above, the following attributes would likely be listed.
  • Client Number
  • Company Name
  • Address
Continue to follow this procedure for each of the other processes. When the entire list is complete, highlight all of the areas that contain “client-related” information. This is where the relationships start to become evident.

Typically, you might use an identifier such as the client’s company name to tag each piece of work on a map so that you could easily refer to all the work that was done for that client. But such a broad identifier limits the way in which project information can be shared. A far better approach would be to use the client’s location, a universal number or another unique identifier that can be used for internal as well as external purposes. (Remember, this is just an example of uniquely identifying your data; client confidentially is serious business!)

With unique tags, we can do almost anything and have a permanent record of that action and how it relates to other processes. We can pin down the birthplace of each piece of data-how it was created, who created it and what format it was created in. By creating each piece of data once and tagging it uniquely, we can ensure that it is routed efficiently through the rest of the system.

In our example, creating a unique client number allows the data to be used in the accounting, field, survey and mapping offices multiple times over, but the number was created only once and by a single source. Following this process systematically removes redundancy and builds trust and credibility for the data in your organization.

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