Well-defined Data Part 2 – Generic Business Entities
We begin our journey down the path of well-defined data by looking at generic business entities.
These are entities such as General Ledger Account, Staff Member, and Asset. They are well-understood within any organization large enough to warrant one or more IT-based business systems supporting functions such as accounting, human resources, or asset management. These functions and business entities are well supported today by commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) packages. So well supported, it’s difficult to imagine any organization justifying a decision to ‘make’ in-house rather than buy.
In my previous series, Requirements in Context, a generic high-level business model was discussed. The model represents business functions applicable to any organization, regardless of it being in the public or private sector, for profit or not for profit. The business functions are seen categorized as management, line of business, or support.
The management and support functions are generic in that their processes and entities are common to any organization. The line-of-business functions are generic in that they describe the life cycle of any product or service an organization deals in. But the processes within those functions and the business entities supporting those processes vary by industry segment and even by organization within a given segment.
This article focuses on the generic business entities associated with management and support functions. Parts 3 and 4 of this series look at the line-of-business functions and their line-of-business-specific entities.
Generic Business Processes and Entities
Within each management and support function are a number of business processes. For example, human resources processes include organizational management, recruitment, and payroll. Each of these generic processes is described briefly below along with the generic business entities they create or reference.
NOTE: As you read these process descriptions, consider how each can apply to any organization in any industry sector. For example, a term such as ‘staff member’ is used in relation to a position within the organization. When a staff member is on an employment contract, they are part of the payroll process and eligible for benefits such as paid leave. If they are on a service contract, they are paid based on an invoice for their time and are not eligible for paid leave. Again, this is generic to any organization regardless of the line(s) of business the organization operates.
The above three processes within the human resources function involved one or more of the following business entities:
- Staff Member
- Employment Contract
- Service Contract
- Hours Worked
- Employee Payment
These entities are generic in that none of them are specific to a particular line of business.
Well-defined Generic Business Entities
The primary objective of a definition is to ensure that the thing being defined will be recognized and understood by those that need to deal with it. A classic example is the “Duck Test” (i.e. how to recognize a duck). The test goes, “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck.” From a data perspective the thing (a duck) is defined by a description attribute (an image of a duck), its relationship to an observed event (swimming), and a classification (the type of sound it makes).
From a business analysis perspective, the test for recognizing a Staff Member, and therefore its business definition, can be stated as: “A person engaged by the organization under an employment or services contract to fulfill the duties and responsibilities of a designated position.”
In addition to a name and definition for each entity, the following properties are commonly included for entities in a data dictionary template:
- ID — an identifier unique within the context of the data dictionary
- Alias(es) — other business terms that users of the data dictionary may know this concept as
- Owner — typically the organizational position responsible for sourcing and/or maintaining instances of the entity (e.g. Head of Recruitment in the case of Staff Member).
- Data Sources — operational and data migration (e.g. For Staff Member, details captured during the recruitment process such as name, contact details, skills).
- Current Volume — order-of-magnitude number of instances of the entity. Of particular interest when numbers are low (under 100) or very high (above 10,000).
- Expected Growth — order-of-magnitude additional instances (per day, week, month, or year). Of particular interest when growth will increase the total by one or more orders of magnitude.
- Peak Volumes — Order of magnitude number of entity instance references and/or additions. Of interest when the number is an order of magnitude higher (or more) than the Current Volume value. Applies more to event-based line-of-business entities involved in sales-related processes.
- Business Identifiers — [To be covered in Part 5 in this series]
COTS Generic Business Information Systems
There are numerous commercially-available business information systems covering one or more processes within a management or support function — for example, Accounting systems, HR systems, Asset Management systems. The advantage of acquiring multiple modules from the same vendor is that the data is integrated (i.e. entered once, referenced multiple times). The alternative is to either have interfaces between systems, copying data from one to the other, or re-entering data in each system as required.
ERP systems (Enterprise Resource Planning) offer an integrated set of modules that span multiple management or support functions.