- Reference data are attributes that describe or define other data. Reference data are reusable data elements that may be shared across multiple applications. For example, a list of countries and country codes may be used for multiple purposes including ‘Country of Origin’, ‘Country of Residence’ and ‘Country Issuing Passport’. Or different business units may segment customer in different ways (Small, Medium, Large versus Individual & Company) creating confusion and hindering both operations and planning.
- While international standards may exist for some data elements, such as country, there are frequently multiple competing standards. This can lead to discrepancies between information held in different applications, regions, or business units. In many cases, standards are not defined and must be agreed internally. This is a data governance responsibility.
- Inconsistencies and errors in reference data can create significant reporting errors – for example, in one database the Code “SA” may represent “Saudi Arabia” and in another it may represent “South Africa”. This could mean that a report showing sales for South Africa may inadvertently include the figures for Saudi Arabia. This kind of problem only becomes relevant when trying to report across applications or business units. Companies must identify the person(s) responsible for agreeing which of these conflicting standards must be used – a data governance role.
- The quality of reference data should be monitored to ensure that errors and inconsistencies like this do not occur in your environment. Poor quality reference data may be reused in multiple scenarios, causing multiple errors. As a subset of master data management, reference data is much simpler to manage and can provide quick business returns. Data quality rules can be defined and measured across multiple systems to ensure consistency and that invalid codes do not creep into reports.
- A recent Information Difference report on reference data management finds that a dedicated Reference Data management platform has significant benefits over home grown solutions and mega-vendor MDM applications as it enables the governance of reference data, rather than simply storing and sharing it. Reference data governance ensures that the correct business knowledge is applied to updating reference data tables, that appropriate checks and balances are put in place, and that changes are approved by the business data steward(s) before tables are updated across the organisation
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