Taming Common/Core Data – in 3 simple steps with Artefact Cards

How do you go about wrestling all the complexity of data in a sprawling organisation with multiple systems and an array of stakeholders into some semblance of order?

If you’ve ever attempted wrangling your organisation’s information ecosystem into some semblance of clarity, you’re painfully familiar with how close it is to herding cats. That’s why in March, when my colleagues and I at Open Data Services were asked to help with a core data initiative, I dug out my trusty desktop Artefact cards set.

Here’s 3 simple steps to help you organise your common core of data, without throwing the towel in and becoming a hermit somewhere in the outer Hebrides (I’ve been tempted!)

Step 1 – Nail down what you mean by common / core:

The clue is in the name – data that is used universally by your organisation and without which you’d be shut down, slow down or left in the dark. Behold the common/core box! Anything in it is common/core, anything that isn’t , isn’t.

 

What's in the box?  The common/core!
What’s in the box? The common/core!

 

Q: Does this mean this is the most important data?

A: No, just the important data that’s global. You’ll probably have other data that isn’t global but is just as important. That’s OK, it just needs its own box. Not this box.

Step 2 – List the types of information you need to survive:

Think of those as containers for the fields or bits of information  you want to put in the box. Too abstract? Let’s take an example. Say you’re making a shopping list for your supermarket-hating partner and you want to make sure they can get everything on the list without freaking out when confronted with  unfamiliar territory. Also, you want them to focus and not come home with just chocolate. So your list includes the categories the supermarket hangs from signs above every aisle: meat, dairy, laundry, bakery, fruit & vegetables – that kind of thing.

The aisles in the supermarket

The cards in the box

The categories in your common/core data

img_0212-1
Don’t prop up your common/core categories!

 

Q: How do I work out the categories?

A: Think about the people, places, things, events and othe stuff you need to know about, report on or collect for compliance  in your organisation. A good place to start is your collection artefacts- the forms, websites, and other ways your organisation asks for information from customers, stakeholders and third parties. Also check the reports your produce and who for.  At the back of your mind, keep asking “why do we need this?”

Step 3 – Herd your fields into a category:

So you’ve got your common/core box nailed down, you’ve worked out your categories and put them in the box, now, the fun part begins, herding your fields.

 

Cards in categories in common/core data
Pick a card, any card!

 

Your fields are the smallest or most granular bits of information you need to survive. They live in a single category inside your common/core box. This is where resisting the temptation to list absolutely everything is needed. For each category, ask:

  • What information or fields do we absolutely need and why?
  • Is that information or field used everywhere in the organisation or just by a few teams or departments?
  • Where do we first collect it?
  • How does it help us operate, comply, report?

If a field passes your smell test, congratulations, it’s core. If not, not to worry, it can go in another box.

Q: How do I avoid getting completely overwhelmed when looking at fields?

A: Always keep your context in mind – why are you doing this? To improve the customer journey? To streamline your systems? Let’s say it was to provide better service by improving your customer journey. Use a high-level map of your customer journey to guide the process. Streamlining your sales pipeline, same thing. For each stage in the journey or pipeline, as – what categories and fields are needed here and why?

So, 3 simple steps to help you organise your common/core data. It’s still not easy and there is a whole passel of people wrangling involved, so make sure you include them at every step and good luck!

Header image: Mailboxes by Rae Allen is licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license

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