It’s a new day, It’s a new dawn…

(OK, so this is being written at around 10pm…)

Let me begin with a sincere apology to my reader (Thank you!) and to all my fellow Blogging101-ers…

During the last three weeks I’ve genuinely been too busy/otherwise occupied to do justice to the week 2 & week 3 ‘homework’ (exercises) – but I WILL be working my way through them all (commenting, building a blog-roll, etc, etc.)

The main reason for my not-quite-dropping-out-of-the-course is because I’ve been preparing and giving a series of presentations on basic aspects of Data Management to my colleagues at work as I prepared to switch from an IT & Change team to a Business Data Governance team. So depending on an individual’s point of view I’ve either ‘gone over to the dark side’ or have become ‘gamekeeper-turned-poacher’ – feel free to choose any other appropriate (but polite) simile!

I’ll free admit that I’ve found it both interesting and challenging to try to condense years of data management thought & experience over a wide range of topics into just seven one-hour sessions for my collegues who all have a similarly wide range of interests and experience.  In the end I chose the following (mainly general) topics and ‘branded’ my sessions under the heading of “Data Management for NON-Dummies” :

  • Introduction to Data & Information Management
  • Information Modelling for Business People
  • Information Modelling for Business Analysts and Developers
  • The Business Glossary (Data Dictionary)
  • The Information Lifecycle
  • Data Quality
  • Data Governance

My intended audience for all of these was physically spread over multiple locations (UK-based and off-shore) consisting of five different agile development teams (all working over the different sites) with key business ‘product owners’ and a raft of other ‘data people’ from business areas thrown in (i.e. invited) for good measure! Because of the scheduling complexities (so many people in different places/timezones with so much to do and so little free time) I decided to share my sessions via Microsoft Lync and to record them for all those who couldn’t attend them ‘live’. As an added incentive for all my potential on-site attendees I provided Jaffa Cakes and Chocolate Hob-Nob biscuits. (Apparently the guaranteed avaliability of food often increases attendance of presentations!!) This tactic seems to have worked for me as I invariably only had a few left at the end of each session (which clearly means the topic of Data Management stimulates the appetite…)

From what a few attendees have said, the sessions seem to have been well-received , but I’m going to wait and see what the feedback I get via SurveyMonkey really tells me – that is if people can actually find the time to respond to my survey…

In addition to all of that(!)… I’ve also been documenting a best part of my data modelling / data architecure learnings & outputs from the last 3 or 4 years and publishing it all in an (hopefully) easy-to-read format on the company intranet – again for my colleagues’ future reference and delight. I only hope they really make the fullest use of it all…

So today… I spent my first day in my new role for my new team in a different part of the organisation… doing a very similar role, based in the same building as last week and sitting at eaxctly the same desk ! Since the rest of my team are based at two other sites in the UK, it’s not really an issue becuase we’ll all be attending a lot of virtual meetings from now on (Microsoft Lync again!).

As for the day itself, it was a mainly quiet ‘planning’ day – I’ve been drawing a ‘new role, new tasks’ mindmap which has over 20 different major topics already (with more to come!). Even so, there were several ‘appeals for help’ throughout the day from my now-former colleagues that tended to start with the words: “I know I’m not supposed to bother you now, but…” or “I know you’re in a different team now, but…” or even “I’m really sorry to bring you back to your old job on your first day, but…”  All-in-all I think I got off quite lightly – only five or six such questions taking up about 1/2 an hour over the course of the whole day.  The much harder part was filtering out all the conversations going around me about all the things I was so heavily involved with upto last Friday.

As for tomorrow… I’ve decided that I’m going to find myself a free desk elsewhere in the building and do some ‘constructive hiding’ – but NOT from my new colleagues!

After all… (cue music…)

…It’s a new life for me, And I’m feelin’ good…

 

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Identifying My Audience…

The Day 4 assignment from my Blogging101 course has been skulking in the back of my mind since I read checked my email this morning… “Publish a post“, it said, “you’d like your ideal audience member to read, and include a new-to-you element in it“.

It seems the ‘new elements’ part could include using different styles of writing (haiku, anyone?), adding pictures (got plenty of those!), embedding tweets…  OK – maybe not so much of an issue with that part.

As for the main part…  You’d think that for a guy like me – part of whose job it is to help people define ‘business things’ better – that the task of simply stating or knowing who my ideal audience member would be ought to be a complete doddle…

WRONG!

WRONG!

WRONG!

Self-doubt, over-analysis, struggling about where to start, a midnight deadline to meet…

I decided to look at the chatroom/group blog open to all the people on this course to find some encouragement and re-assurance that I’m not the only one struggling to write something – but NO… it seems lots of people have already done their ‘homework’ already… But what’s this I see? There are some stragglers and strugglers just like me who’ve eventually written posts about how difficult today’s assignment is and have just gone ahead and started writing something.  “Just get those fingers hitting keys – Write what ever comes to you”

So that’s what you’ve just read for the first part of this blog…

I suppose just doing that has calmed my brain somewhat – so I may be able to describe part of my ideal audience to you now…

In simplest terms, I suppose they would be people like me in some (or a lot of) ways – IT people who seen things go wrong because of lack of the clear and consistent communication when requirements for new systems or changes to systems are being discussed. These bumps in the road can ultimately lead to confusion, delays, rework and lack of user-satisfaction with what’s delivered. It’s sometimes down to the different terminology being used to describe things that are most important to the end-users of systems.

The language difficulties can suddenly appear in different – and sometimes quite subtle – ways.

One area where confusion can arise is from having the same simplified or shortened field names on screens or reports. For example (true story 1) – a field simply called “Issue Date” appeared on several different screens in a old system that was being replaced. On one particular screen the field name “Issue Date” would mean the date by which the team were planning to issue a quote to a customer. On a second screen, the field “Issue Date” would mean the date on which the team actually issued the quote to the customer. Two different bits of information with ‘the same name’ that the users automatically ‘translated’ because they were extremely familiar with the (old) system. Calling the separate fields Target Issue Date and Actual Issue Date made much more sense to the IT teams, but some business people just didn’t see the difference.  Maybe a good question for IT folks (Business/Systems Analysts) to ask in these situations is “How would you describe this (thing) to someone who has never used the system?

Another problem is often caused by acronyms and abbreviations which are often used as ‘ego’ words (“If you don’t know what A.B.C. means then you have less business knowledge than me and are therefore inferior/stupid/useless”).

True story 2 – In one of the first meetings during my first week in my current job someone used the term ‘A.P.I.’… I wasn’t exactly sure what it meant so I asked ‘the dumb question’ – “Excuse me – can you explain what that means?” .  I was given ‘the look’ and was told, “Annual Premium Income”. However, someone else in the meeting then said, “No – it means Annualised Premium Income – which is something completely different!”… And so a ‘discussion’ ensued!

So there you have it – some people in my audience will care about using clear and consistent terminology when describing business system requirements.

Thanks for being patient with me during this difficult time!

To finish now, I’m now including a Dilbert cartoon – a favourite of mine about acronyms and abbreviations…  Enjoy…

Dilbert_TTP

 

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Why the Title? Why the Tagline?

Today’s assignment on my “Blogging 101” course was called: “Take Control of Your Title and Tagline”. I thought I should take some time to try and explain how I chose the name and tagline for this blog.

my title comes from “A Random Walk in Science” – a book I discovered long ago (as a long-haired teenager) in my school library while I was working towards my A-levels (I studied Physics, Chemistry and Maths back in 1979-1981). It was a collection of humorous and sometimes off-beat articles published to prove that the subject of science can be just as entertaining as it can be educational. Not only did it make me chuckle from time to time, it also made me think a little differently about science and how it isn’t always dull, dry or boring.

RandomWalkInScience

This is what I’m hoping to achieve with my blog on the (sometimes) dull subject of “data”…

The original tagline for my blog was “Data & Information – Management, Modelling, Quality, Governance…” which was all I could come up with when I set up my blog in the middle of last year (but I never got around to posting anything – until yesterday, that is!). It sounded quite serious and I suppose the best that could be said about it is that it described some of my intended blog content…

So now I’ve now decided to change it to: “Realise that everything connects to everything else” – a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.

davinci

In the I.T. industry it really does seem to be the case – any assumptions we make about data (it’s quality, completeness, etc.) often come back to bite us; fuzzy thinking about data (such as not actually describing things that well) sometimes means IT professionals can’t always produce the systems our users (real people like you and me!) really want or even need.

Now you have some sense of the thinking behind my blog – maybe it makes sense to you…

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INTRODUCING ME AND MY BLOG…

Welcome to “A RANDOM WALK IN DATA”

Today, with lots of other people around the world, I’m starting an online blogging course through WordPress called “Blogging 101”. The first daily task/assignment I’ve been set is to introduce myself and my blog. The task popped into my email inbox at 00:01 (really “first thing this morning”!) and now it’s well past 22:00… So it’s time to post something…

Question: Who am I?

Answer: My name is Steve and I’m a Data Architect at a UK-based Insurance company – or to put it another way… I’m “A Data Geek”.

Question: Why have a Blog about “Data” (of all things)?
Answer: Why not?

A lot of what the insurance business revolves around is collecting, using and presenting data.  In common with the other financial services, insurance is just a DATA HANDLING business – there isn’t really a “raw material” and there is no physical end-product.  Data or information is what we have and it’s in constant use around all our business units.

In my 30+ years in the I.T. industry (that long? Aaargh!), I’ve often seen how business remain heavily-focussed on the processes and the technology (the things we do and the computer systems we use) with little (apparent) focus on “What people do the things we do WITH” (the DATA).

One part of my role as a Data Architect is to assist colleagues in understanding how data and information can (or should) fit together (depending on different business viewpoints) – not just which systems hold which data and where they might be sending it, but how seemingly insignificant changes in one piece of data in one part of the business might seriously affect decision-making processes and ultimately our customers, shareholders, even employees.

It may seem quite ‘geeky’ and uninteresting (OK – sometimes it really is!) but asking questions about our data and information (often starting with “Why…?” and following that with several more questions all starting with “Why…?”) highlights to people that most businesses actually rely a great deal on what data is collected and manipulated through all business processes – no matter how or where they are actually carried out.

The main point behind running this Blog is to make other people (that’s YOU…) think more about the data and information we handle in our jobs – whatever that job may be. I’d like to think I can raise some points using humour or irony – for other points I may be more obvious…

Over time I’ve come across some very sensible and very strange(!) points of view around “data” and also I believe it’s just good to look at things in different ways from time to time. If any of my ramblings provoke some discussions, I suppose it can only be a good thing…

As a “side-bar”, I may as well mention that I’m also an amateur photographer and so, from time-to-time, I may get a little bit “random” and start talking about what grabs me about my hobby rather than things in my day-job. I’ll probably be posting some of my pictures too.

As I continue through the Blogging 101 course, I hope you’ll stick around, read some of my future posts and maybe even give me some feedback.

There – my first piece of homework is now complete!

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